Just as bullying is not tolerated amongst children in schools, neither should it be an acceptable way for adults to behave in the workplace. Unfortunately, bullying and harassment in the workplace does happen and can have a significant impact on victims and on employers who fail to deal with it adequately. Here we look at why an anti-bullying strategy for the workplace is necessary and how such a strategy is of benefit to both employers and employees.
What constitutes bullying and harassment in the workplace
Bullying behaviour can be conducted in a variety of ways, including face to face, on the phone or by email. Broadly, bullying and harassment usually involves behaviour that is both unwanted and unnecessary and has a damaging effect on the victim.
Examples of bullying behaviour include undermining competent workers, denying competent workers training and promotion, spreading rumours about someone, or treating someone unfairly. This sort of behaviour is not unlawful; however, if such behaviour is related to personal characteristics such as disability, sex, age, race or sexual orientation, the bullying will constitute harassment that is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. The act contains the full list of characteristics.
What an anti-bullying strategy should involve
An anti-bullying strategy should include a policy that sets out examples of behaviour that will not be tolerated and the consequences of such behaviour. It should also include steps that have been taken to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace and make it clear that all levels of management are committed to the policy and have been given any relevant training. Senior management should be setting a good example and make it clear that bullying and harassment of any kind constitutes unacceptable behaviour.
Allegations of bullying and harassment should be dealt with sensitively and in confidence, with the strategy also including the use of the company’s discipline and grievance procedures to deal with both perpetrators and victims. Where appropriate, victims should also be offered support through counselling and mediation.
What can happen if you don’t have a strategy
The main consequence of a company not having a clear strategy for dealing with bullying and harassment is that an employee could make a claim against the company for constructive dismissal and/or discrimination if one or more of the grounds for unlawful harassment are satisfied. There could also be other consequences for employers; for example, bullying and harassment can lead to long-term sickness absence, and a failure to deal with bullying effectively can damage a company’s reputation outside the organisation. It can also lead to poor morale within the organisation, resulting in poor performance and lost productivity.
Here we have outlined the possible consequences of not having an anti-bullying strategy for your workplace, or a strategy that is not enforced properly. While cases of employees suing employers as a direct result of bullying and harassment in the workplace are rare, employers should be mindful of the fact that such cases can happen and do everything they can to prevent this outcome.
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