Versus Arthritis apologises after claims of 'victim-blaming and intimidation' emerge

Versus Arthritis has apologised after allegations surfaced on social media that described an independent investigation into claims of bullying and racism at the charity as intimidating and "victim-blaming".

Screenshots from an internal message board, shared on Twitter, also questioned whether the sharing of confidential and personal information with a third-party company was compliant with data protection rules.

The screenshots claim the charity shared confidential employee experiences, which were related at an open in-house meeting in July, with its independent adviser – the HR consultancy Tell Jane. These included accounts of racism, bullying and microaggressions at the charity.

Last month the charity filed a serious incident report with the Charity Commission about the issues raised at the meeting.

Tell Jane was appointed to investigate allegations of bullying and racism, and to review the charity’s case management of such issues.

But there were concerns regarding a lack of transparency about Tell Jane’s appointment, according to the information shared in the Twitter post, and whether the company had the expertise to “deliver the anti-racist solutions needed to improve experiences at Versus Arthritis.

In addition, individuals contacted by Tell Jane during the investigative process have described their interactions as “intimidating and victim-shaming”, the post alleged. 

Speaking to Third Sector, Ellen Miller, deputy chief executive of Versus Arthritis, apologised to those who had been made to feel uncomfortable by the investigation. 

“We made sure that people knew we were doing it, and communicated that on several occasions,” she said.

“Unfortunately some of our staff were uncomfortable with the way in which contact was established, and we’re really sorry if they aren’t comfortable with the way thats been managed.”

Miller said that Tell Jane was appointed because the charity wanted an expert so that staff would have a safe space to share their issues and concerns.

She admitted that the work email addresses of individuals within the charity were provided to Tell Jane, but added that it was appropriate in the context of the investigation.

Miller said the process had been amended, adding it had been a huge challenge to address the “massive issues that had been raised this year”, in terms of the experiences of people of colour across the charity sector. 

“We went through a selection process, and we chose Tell Jane for its expertise and its record in dealing with difficult, complex organisational situations, including anti-racist work and anti-bullying work,” she said.

Asked whether the charity’s work with Tell Jane could proceed, Miller said the charity would make the company aware of the complaints.

Tell Jane said it was not instructed by Versus Arthritis to provide anti-racism consultation or training.

A spokesperson for the company said: “Tell Jane was instructed by Versus Arthritis to conduct an HR investigation into issues relating to racism and bullying, as well as to review current policies and case management processes, and to implement an anonymous reporting support line for employees. 

“Tell Jane is an HR consultancy that specialises in preventing workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination.

"Intimidation and victim-blaming goes against our ethos and the very core of our work. We are an independent organisation committed to impartiality.”


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