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Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

Bullying and harassment remain significant workplace issues despite increasing awareness of the problem. It is vital that organisations have robust policies and procedures in place to tackle any issues that arise as this type of behaviour is not only unacceptable on moral grounds but may, if unchecked or badly handled, create serious problems such as:

• Poor morale and poor employee relations
• Loss of respect for management
• Poor performance
• Lost productivity
• Absence
• Resignations
• Reputational damage
• Employment Tribunal claims

Further, if the bullying and/or harassment is in connection with one of the protective characteristics contained in the Equality Act 2010 then this could also amount to discrimination.

What is Bullying and Harassment?
Bullying and harassment can often be hard to recognise as it may not be obvious to others and may be insidious. The recipient may think ‘perhaps this is normal behaviour in this Company’, they may be anxious that others will consider them weak, or not up to the job if they find the actions of others intimidating. They may be accused of ‘overreacting’ and worry that they won’t be believed if they do report incidents. This is not the case as all employees are entitled to work in a safe working environment free from bullying and harassment.

Bullying is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour involving the misuse of power that can make a person feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened. Power does not always mean in the position of authority but can include personal strength power through fear and intimidation. Bullying can take the form of physical, verbal, non-verbal conduct.
Harassment is unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct which has the purpose of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. This could include a single incident or continuation of incidents over an extended period of time.

The EHRC Employment Code advises that the word "unwanted" means the same essentially as "unwelcome" or "uninvited" and it does not mean that express objection is made to the conduct before it is deemed to be unwanted. The EHRC guidance on harassment gives the following examples of unwanted conduct:

• Spoken words
• Banter, even if everyone joined in as this could be a coping strategy
• Written words
• Posts or contact on social media
• Imagery
• Graffiti
• Physical gestures
• Facial expressions
• Mimicry
• Jokes or pranks
• Acts affecting a person’s surroundings
• Aggression
• Physical behaviour towards a person or their property

It is important to note that a one-off incident can constitute harassment and that some conduct must be presumed to be unwanted unless proved otherwise.

What Should Employers Do?
All employees have the right to work in a safe working environment, which includes protecting employees from unlawful discrimination, bullying and harassment. Therefore, employers should introduce policies and procedures that show their commitment to the provision of equal opportunities in employment and dignity at work. Employers also need to set clear expectations of behaviour and have procedures in place to deal with any complaints of bullying and/or harassment so that if there are any issues then these can be dealt with before they escalate into a serious problem.

Further, there are several measures that an Employer could take such as:

•Provide regular training on equal opportunities and dignity at work to embed the message with all employees.
•Carrying out regular 121 meetings and staff surveys to understand if there are any issues that have not been addressed.
•Introduce an open-door policy for employees to raise any issues without fear of repercussions.
•Introduce a reporting system to allow employees to report issues that they have either encountered of witnessed.
•When dealing with a harassment complaint you need to act immediately to try to resolve the complaint taking into account how the worker wants it to be resolved. It is important to always communicate the outcome of the complaint to the complainant in a timely manner.

These measures will ensure that all employees are aware of the expectations of their behaviour whilst at work or on work events and it will also make employees who are suffering from bullying and/or harassment feel more comfortable in raising the issues instead of suffering in silence and potentially leaving the Company.

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