Alleged bullying and harassment in the workplace is a tricky area to manage. Ultimately, employers need to avoid the risks of alleged bullying or harassment suffered by employees at work, or at work-related events.
A claim can be issued in the tribunal for harassment. Equally, bullying and harassment can support a claim for unfair constructive dismissal. As a business, you need to avoid situations that could result in alleged bullying and harassment, the technical definition being “unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating another person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person”.
Recognising bullying and harassment
Unacceptable behaviour in an organisation may include:
- spreading malicious rumours or insulting someone;
- unfair treatment;
- making threats or comments about job security without foundation; and
- overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (Nixon v Ross Coates Solicitors & anor) confirms that gossip about a pregnant employee caused her discomfort and was unwanted conduct. The Claimant was, as a result, successful in her claim for harassment.
It is important to note that bullying and harassment may not necessarily be face-to-face. It may also be by written communications, visual images, email and phone or in cyberspace. All situations recognised by the tribunal.
When a complaint of bullying and/or harassment is made by an employee, examples of some of the procedures you should follow are:
- investigate the complaint promptly and objectively;
- carry out an objective and independent investigation; and
- consider the perception of the complainant, as harassment is often felt differently by different people.
Some of the measures that could be taken are:
- make known to your employees the approach you will take in the event alleged bullying is taking place;
- implement an anti bullying and harassment policy;
- outline examples of unacceptable behaviour;
- provide training for managers; and
- make employees aware that bullying and harassment will be treated as disciplinary offences.
Bear in mind that any action taken against employees must be reasonable in light of the facts.