Bullying and harassment at work

Bullying and harassment of any kind, should not be tolerated in any circumstances. It is important to understand what amounts to bullying/harassment. Whilst harassment has a legal definition in relation to employment, bullying does not. It is important to remember that although there are forms of bullying which are obvious to spot, bullying can take

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Bullying and harassment of any kind, should not be tolerated in any circumstances. It is important to understand what amounts to bullying/harassment.

Whilst harassment has a legal definition in relation to employment, bullying does not. It is important to remember that although there are forms of bullying which are obvious to spot, bullying can take on a more subtler form which is harder to notice.

Harassment

Although bullying and harassment are often used interchangeably, bullying is actually a form of harassment. A definition of harassment involves unwanted conduct which is directed towards individuals, affecting their dignity. The subject of harassment could be related to age, sex, ethnicity, nationality, or even a personal characteristic of a specific individual.

The term harassment can be used to refer to just one isolated incident, or in reference to continuous and persistent abuse. The main factor to have in mind when trying to identify harassment is whether unacceptable and demeaning behaviour is directed towards a particular individual.

Bullying

Although there is no legal definition of bullying, it is often defined as malicious, offensive, intimidating and insulting forms of behaviour. This can include the abuse of power in order to humiliate or undermine a specific individual. This could occur between individuals, between groups of people. It could take both a direct or an indirect form.

Common forms of bullying can include physical abuse, verbal bullying, giving someone deadlines/projects which are impossible to complete, and publicly humiliating someone.

It is important to be aware of the fact that both bullying and harassment do not need to be conducted face to face. This type of behaviour can also be in the form of unwarranted emails (or by using other forms of communication), the spreading of rumours or the victimisation/exclusion of someone. Additionally, any form of behaviour which could include untoward sexual advances will also be classified as bullying/harassment.

Recognising Bullying and/or Harassment

As has been mentioned, it is important to recognise that bullying can adopt subtle forms, which can be quite hard to spot. Another reason that bullying may be hard to identify is that it has formed part of the ‘culture’ of a workplace.

Irrespective of how subtle the bullying is, if an employer fails to identify it, they could be held liable. Some of the signs an employer should be looking out for include: symptoms of stress (for example depression, anxiety and panic attacks), a change in an employee’s behaviour and even prolonged and unexplained periods of absence.

Preventing Bullying/Harassment in the Workplace

As employers are responsible for ensuring bullying and harassment does not occur in their workplace, their normal method of appropriately dealing with the subject is by implementing regularly reviewing an anti-bullying and harassment policy.

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that any policy which has been implemented is circulated and understood by all the employees of the organisation. Additionally, the policy should be regularly updated, and monitored sufficiently.

Steps An Employer Should Take in Ensuring there are Adequate Anti-Bullying Procedures in Place

An employer will need to make sure they delegate the creation of the policy to a suitable member(s) of the workforce. This individual should be trained properly. The management team of the organisation should also be actively demonstrating their commitment to the policy.

It is important not just to have a policy, but also to ensure that it is sufficiently advertised throughout the workforce. The employer should also consider putting an induction process in place so that employees feel comfortable they know the anti-bullying guidelines of their firm.

Additional useful resources :-

https://www.gov.uk/workplace-bullying-and-harassment

www.bullyonline.org/workbully/amibeing.htm

www.tuc.org.uk/tuc/rights_bullyatwork.cfm

‎http://www.darlingtons.com/site/employment_law/bullying/

Ben Jones – Partner & head of employment law

If you are an employer wanting to ensure you have the right policies in place to deal with bullying or harassment or an employee has complained to you about these issues, get in touch with us. Failing to deal with these issues can lead not only to significant staff morale issues but also can lead to expensive employment tribunal claims.

If you are an employee and you are being bullied or harassed, contact us for a free, confidential and sympathetic discussion as to what your options are.

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