Case 104 - Ministry of Defence
In Spring 2003 I first became aware that the behaviour of a new military colleague seemed unduly hostile towards me. This was in stark contrast to the very strong working relationships I had maintained with his predecessors. Working in a large organisation like MOD you expect to find people who can be more or less easy to work with but I gradually realised that his inappropriate behaviour seemed to be directed at me. Over time I felt that his behaviour towards me became increasingly unprofessional and personally motivated to the point where I reported it in writing to my local management. My management and close colleagues refused to accept that anything untoward was going on, preferring to either ignore my concerns altogether or, at best, telling me to pull myself together. Over a period of roughly 18 months I found my personal reputation being undermined as well as my professional standing with the national and international scientific community. One particular example occurred when he sent an email, on a very wide distribution accusing me of unprofessional, unethical behaviour and entering contractual arrangements with foreign countries. When I was able to prove, via an email audit trial, that I had not done what I had been accused of, and that the originator of the accusations was himself on the distribution of the exonerating emails, no apology was forthcoming or disciplinary action taken. It was at this point that I realised that I could not trust my management or colleagues to protect me from the harasser.
Things continued to worsen, despite written support from a senior external colleague (which was regarded by management as interference) until I finally suffered a stress breakdown and was signed off with work-related stress for nearly three months. During this time my management still refused to admit what had gone on, tried to lay the blame for the situation on me, and tried to work round rather than through the problem by changing my responsibilities.
Realising that my management and colleagues were never going to support me I persuaded my GP to let me return to work purely so that I could find a transfer to another part of MOD. I returned to the stressing environment for four months, kept my head down (which wasn’t difficult as I was being isolated anyway) and was finally successful in finding a move to a different, but related, scientific area.
At this point I had hoped for a happily-ever-after ending. I had found Tim’s website, which had provided invaluable advice and support, and my new job was challenging and new management supportive. However, after a ‘honeymoon period’ of a month or so I noticed that many of my original stress symptoms were returning including feelings of anger, injustice and distrust over the way the whole situation had been handled. I saw my GP and he suggested counselling as a way of helping me move on. Through Oct to Dec 2004 I attended regular counselling sessions with an excellent NHS counsellor and we discussed everything over many sessions. Despite her help and insight I was getting worse both mentally and physically and so just before Christmas she decided that the only way forward for me was medical retirement from the Civil Service and then a career probably based on voluntary work. We discussed alternative, less drastic courses of action but she was adamant that medical retirement was the only solution. I have to admit, at this point, the thought of chopping down trees in our local country park, despite losing £25k/year in salary seemed (and still seems) very attractive.
I briefed my GP on where we had got to and he decided to refer me to a psychiatrist to confirm that medical retirement was the best way forward for me. In Jan 2005 the psychiatrist confirmed that, while medical retirement was a downstream option, a course of therapy, medication and reduced hours could prove successful in allowing me an effective return to work. Some three months later all my medications have been doubled and it is likely that my reduced hours will be reduced further. I am not aware of any signs of improvement and so it now looks to me that medical retirement is the best and only option for me to return to a reasonable state of mental and physical health in the foreseeable future.
On the medical side I have received excellent care from my OH dept, Welfare, my GP and the psychiatric specialists but for me and my family it seems a case of too little, too late. In fact I currently feel a bit like a medical ping pong ball between my counsellor and psychiatrist although Welfare have explained that the more alternatives that are investigated now the stronger the case for retirement later.
At no point was the MOD procedure for harassment followed (even though simply failing to follow it is recognised as grounds for legal action in itself), and no apology has ever been forthcoming. Further, in the written assessment from the psychiatrist, having diagnosed PTSD, anxiety and depression, he concluded that the severity of my psychiatric injury had been made worse by the failure of my management to take the situation and my concerns seriously. I have also received good support from my union, Prospect, and a number of colleagues in my new department.
Has anything good come out of this? Well, as a "survivor" I have been consulted on at least three occasions about similar situations in other parts of MOD in the last three months.