February 23, 2023

How to deal with bullying and harassment and avoid falling foul of the law

News Article

Bullying in the workplace is more common than people think, and employers are liable for any harassment suffered by their employees. Here, Samantha Randall, an Associate Solicitor with Palmers who specialises in employment law, outlines how employers can ensure they are compliant with employment regulations:

Employers should ensure that specific workplace policies are in place to avoid falling foul of the law. The business should have a policy on bullying that says how it should be handled.

Under the Equality Act of 2010, bullying and harassment are described as behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended.

Bullying in itself is not against the law, as it is not clearly defined in legislation, but harassment is, and has more to do with an individual’s characteristics. Either way, the employer has a legal duty of care to protect employees while at work, even if there’s no company policy.

An employee could make a claim for constructive dismissal if they leave, claiming severe bullying, and the employer did nothing about it.

Some examples of bullying or harassing behaviour include:

  • Denying promotion or training
  • Constantly undermining their position
  • Spreading unpleasant rumours
  • Generally unfair treatment

It can also take more than one form other than face-to-face, including:

  • Via the contents of a letter
  • Through an email
  • By telephone call

The law protects against harassment in areas like:

  • Race or religion
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity

How employees might raise complaints

It is always preferable to sort out the problem as informally and amicably as possible. It is a good idea for the employee to explain to the person concerned how bullying behaviour is affecting them. They should be firm, not aggressive and stick to the facts.

If the employee does not feel comfortable talking to the person face to face, the problem could be explained in an email or by seeking support from a trade union representative, if there is one.

Should this not work, then options could include:

  • Discussing the case with a line manager
  • Informing the HR department
  • Taking it up officially with the trade union representative

The next step should be to use the company’s grievance procedure to progress the matter.

For employers to avoid it reaching that stage, it makes sense to put specific workplace policies in place and avoid that scenario.

Legally, it is important that employers understand the difference between bullying and harassment. This may be set out in a single policy document which ensures there are suitable procedures to handle employee grievances and disciplinary matters.

For help and advice on all aspects of employment law, including help and support to ensure your company grievance policy is compliant, please get in touch with us.