My word, I hope somebody has a good explanation for this one. London Underground bosses have apparently required the removal from Tube offices in Essex of two small photos of the Queen, unwitting subject of bullying allegations made by a member of one rail union against a member of another. RMT and ASLEF union representatives have leapt to their respective barricades to fire charge and counter-charge against each other, pausing only to make snide and entirely gratuitous remarks about London Mayor Boris Johnson in the process.
So what did the Queen do to deserve being carried out of the office after a full year in place at the Loughton Central Line depot? Apparently, reports Monday’s Evening Standard, her picture there was alleged to create “a hostile working environment” for one employee, though the complainant has had the grace to admit that it was “not solely” about her that his grievance was brought. Not solely? His complaint is that the other employee had bullied and intimidated him, that there had been threats against his family and his home and that he had been made ill by it all. Serious stuff, but quite where the Queen fits into all of this is, putting it mildly, unclear. The two men have “vastly differing political allegiances”, says the Standard, but even if one is an ardent monarchist and the other a rabid republican, so what? This is a person whose image is on every stamp, every coin, every note that the complainant handles – how can an A4 photo of her conceivably, in anyone’s wildest imagination, contribute to a hostile working environment? There is clearly more to this story than has been reported, but that particular aspect of the grievance would make interesting reading indeed.
Which creates a question for the discerning Central Line user: why even before a full investigation has London Underground management chosen to remove the Queen’s photo, rather than telling the complainant to get a grip and focus on behaviours which, here on Earth, could actually be argued to have some gravity and substance? He is obviously fully entitled to make a complaint about bullying and threats, etc., and the employer is equally clearly entitled in those circumstances to suspend the alleged perpetrator, as it has. But the decision to confiscate a photo of the Queen seems, with respect, an excessive pre-emptive response to a breathtakingly silly complaint, and the sort of entirely predictable process-above-reason PR blunder not seen on the railways since, ooh, here.
Where an employer reacts in what appears to be such a knee-jerk way, it does a dis-service not only to itself and to the employee bringing the grievance, but also to the public respect for the law. The article on the front page of the Evening Standard (“Read by more than 2 million every day”) leaves the lay person wondering what employment law has come to. Is an employee really allowed to complain about a small photo of the Monarch as contributing to a hostile working environment? Is the employer genuinely obliged to remove it just because he does? Is it no longer permissible to pause and engage with reality even briefly before applying process?
Nobody comes out of this with any credit, but please believe me, dear Standard reader, this is not what employment law is supposed to be about.