Following on from the guidance and thematic review published last month, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is now consulting on proposed changes to its rules that would reinforce its powers to deal with risks to clients and the public when these stem from a poor workplace culture in law firms.
The proposals, which also aim to clarify the SRA’s approach to situations where a solicitor’s health affect his or her ability to practise, is for the introduction of explicit obligations in the Codes of Conduct for both firms and individuals in relation to workplace culture and the obligation to treat colleagues fairly and with respect, and not to engage in bullying, harassment and unfair discrimination
A recent SRA Workplace Culture Thematic Review found that while three quarters of respondents reported working in a broadly positive environment, there are still concerns and issues about the pressures on solicitors. Previous research, including by the charity LawCare and the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society, has highlighted high levels of stress and even bullying and discrimination in the sector. Workplace culture is something that is becoming an increasingly important issue and follows a number of documented examples of bullying and of pressure being placed upon junior staff to act in a way that breaches SRA standards and regulations.
The new consultation sets out the obligations the SRA is proposing to bring in to tackle these issues and also on rules relating to where a solicitor’s health raises regulatory risks. This includes
- making it clear that regulated firms must treat colleagues with respect and dignity and that failure to do so will result in action being taken where necessary to protect the interests of clients and the public, and
- supporting the SRA’s ability to take appropriate and proportionate action where necessary to deal with concerns over a solicitor’s health affecting their fitness to practise.
The SRA acknowledges that, whilst the current Standards and Regulations give it the power to act where it sees serious failings in the workplace, the current Codes of Conduct do not include an explicit requirement to treat people fairly at work. The SRA believes that the proposals will enable it to demonstrate its commitment to tackling any kind of serious unfair treatment of work colleagues and to make it clear to the regulated community that such behaviour is not acceptable.
The consultation, which can be found at https://www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/documents/sra/consultations/wellbeing-rule-changes-consultation-2022.pdf?version=492fa0 runs for 12 weeks, until Friday 27 May.