Bullying/Harassment in the Workplace
Bullying and/or harassment in the workplace are issues that employers and employees need to ensure do not take place.
There are a number of different types of treatment that could be considered bullying in the workplace or harassment and there are many different types of behaviour that can satisfy the definitions of bullying and harassment.
Bullying can best be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient
Harassment, is 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.
Employers should have policies in place to ensure that such conduct does not take place amongst their workforce. When incidents do arise they should ensure that they adopt appropriate procedures to manage the situation. Not only can it lead to poor moral amongst the workforce, but also potential Employment Tribunal claims.
There has, since the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, been legislation in place to specifically prevent harassment. The act covers actions in the workplace but also in all walks of life.
It may be that a person is not able to present a case for race discrimination or sex discrimination, however if the actions against them satisfy the description above they may be able to present a case to the Tribunal for constructive dismissal or a claim under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. These are two separate cases, the claim for constructive dismissal would need to presented to the Employment Tribunal, and within 3 months of the resignation/dismissal. The claim under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 would be available for a period of 6 years, and would also not require employment status.
Employers also need to bear in mind that employees who suffer bullying or harassment may also be able to present a claim for personal injury if they suffer from significant psychological problems as a result.
Employers must ensure that staff in managerial positions are properly trained to deal with these issues. Not only will it enable a company to stamp out such behaviour before it starts, but it will also ensure that the business is protected should claims be brought against it with an employer being able to show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent such treatment. This can include an anti-harassment/bullying policy and/or appropriate training for staff. All policies should be circulated to staff, it is not sufficient to have such policies in place if the relevant employees are not aware of them.
In addition employers should have an appropriate grievance procedure. This will allow employees to air their concerns at an early stage. It will allow employers to deal with such complaints and manage situations which could otherwise lead to employment claims.
There should be no doubt from both sides that bullying or harassment is not acceptable in the workplace. If employers are unclear as to their obligations they should seek advice and ensure that appropriate procedures are introduced.