Expert comment: Bullying and harassment in the workplace

With workplace bullying and harassment being a hot topic in the workplace, Senior Associate in our Employment department, Hayley Trovato, has commented on what employers can do to combat it:

Both bullying and harassment can often be hard to recognise and the symptoms may not be obvious to others. If you are the person on the receiving end you may think that this is normal behaviour for the company you work for and you simply cannot handle the pressure, or you may feel anxious that you will be considered weak or not up to the job if you speak out and say you find the behaviour of others intimidating. A common theme in people not coming forward and reporting bullying is that they will be accused of overreacting and they worry that no one will believe them. There is also a fear of what the consequences may be for them if they do raise a complaint.

Bullying at work can take many different forms and can happen face to face, in writing by email or letter or over the phone.

It can 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.

There is a lot of talk about ‘ banter ‘ and where the line should be drawn between banter and insulting behaviour; or between robust management and abuse of power; or where someone with a strong personality becomes intimidating.

In terms of the law, there is much uncertainty as there is no legal standard for bullying within employment legislation.  Unless bullying is related to a protected characteristic and amounts to conduct defined as harassment under the Equality Act 2010 then it is not possible to make a complaint to the Employment Tribunal about it.

Tackling bullying behaviour before it becomes a problem is key. Here are some practical steps that employers can take to tackle the bullies head-on:-

  • Provide training to employees and managers so everyone is aware of their own rights and responsibilities.
  • Lead by example – how employers lead sets the tone for how employees are expected to treat each other.
  • Have a zero-tolerance policy making it clear what behaviour is unacceptable, make sure this policy is widely publicised and applied consistently.
  • Ensure that there is a clear reporting channel for employees to raise concerns and what steps you will take to ensure what you will do to safeguard against potential victimisation following any complaints.
  • investigate all complains promptly and fairly
  • Promote a positive and open workplace culture

This article is for information only and does not constitute legal advice. For professional legal advice on employment matters around bullying in the workplace, please contact Hayley Trovato.

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