As an employer, you have a duty of care towards your employees and a responsibility to make sure that they are not bullied or harassed. Accusations can be damaging to your business and its reputation and should be dealt with swiftly to minimise harm.
Your organisation should have a clear policy in place that your staff are aware of together with a formal procedure for reporting grievances.
What is considered bullying and harassment at work?
Bullying and harassment is behaviour towards someone that makes them feel intimidated, degraded, or humiliated. It could be perpetrated by one or more people and could be a single event or a continued pattern of behaviour.
It can happen by email or other online communication as well as in person or by phone. Examples include the spreading of malicious rumours, regularly undermining someone or treating them unfairly or socially isolating someone.
The employment advisory service Acas defines bullying and harassment as follows:
Bullying is ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.’
Harassment, which is against the law, is defined as ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.’
Protected characteristics are listed in the Equality Act 2010 and include age, disability, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation.
How to stop bullying and harassment in the workplace
Employers should have a clear policy in place that clearly explains what it not acceptable behaviour and what the consequences will be. The policy should be publicised to employees and easily available to them, for example, in the employee handbook. Our solicitors can provide you with an employee handbook template to follow.
Training can be helpful in explaining to everyone the types of behaviour that can be offensive or insulting. In some cases, employees may not be fully aware of the implications of comments they make, for example, continually making negative references to someone’s ability because of their age. A professional trainer will not only ensure that everyone understands what is not acceptable, but will help establish among your staff that this type of behaviour is wrong and will not be tolerated.
As an employer, you will be able to demonstrate that you are serious about ending bullying and harassment and that you have taken clear steps to do so.
Employee complaints should be handled sensitively and with confidentiality. Those involved should be made aware that retaliation will not be tolerated.
Accusations should be handled in line with your bullying and harassment policy. When you first speak to the person making the complaint, you should ask them what they would like to happen. There may be an opportunity to deal with matters informally, but they may wish to raise a formal complaint.
For more information about dealing with complaints, see the Acas guide explaining how to approach a bullying or harassment complaint.
Bullying policy checklist for employers
A robust policy will help your employees understand both what constitutes bullying or harassment and that it will not be tolerated. The following points should be included:
- Definition of bullying and harassment
- Examples of conduct that amounts to bullying or harassment
- Your business’s commitment to ending negative behaviour
- Clear wording stating that this behaviour will not be tolerated and details of the consequences
- The names or positions of people to whom a complaint should initially be made
- Details of the full complaints’ procedure, from information raising of the issue through to a formal complaint
- Details of any support that is available to employees if needed
- Your commitment to deal with the complaint fairly and within a specified time period
- Your assurances that all complaints will be treated seriously and dealt with impartially and confidentially
Your policy should be written in plain English and your employees should know that it is available and be able to access it easily.
How we can help with bullying and harassment in your workplace
Early intervention in a case of alleged bullying or harassment gives the best chance of settling the matter quickly before positions become entrenched.
At Springhouse Employment Solicitors we offer guidance and representation to help minimise the risk of a case escalating and becoming disruptive or damaging to your business. We have a strong track record of success in negotiating and settling issues without delay and without recourse to a tribunal.
As well as advising in respect of disputes, we can also work with you to ensure you have a robust policy in place together with a clear legal procedure for dealing with allegations of bullying or harassment.
Expertise for employers
Starting employment: contracts and policies
During employment: handling staff problems
Common issues raised by staff
- Bullying and harassment
- Constructive dismissal
- Family rights and flexible working
- Holiday and working time