Bullying and harassment; no place in the workplace

According to the UK Government, bullying and harassment is “behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended” and harassment at work is not only despicable and demeaning but may also be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. Each person has the right to decide what behaviour is either acceptable or unacceptable; if an individual finds certain behaviour unacceptable and they feel damaged by it, then that individual has every right to say so, and their right to do so will be respected. It is irrelevant whether the person who perpetrated the behaviour intended to cause offence.

Bullying and harassment has no place in the workplace. Not only does a hostile environment leads to poor performance, high staff turnover and a damaged professional reputation, but the psychological damage it can cause to employees can have lasting effects. Therefore, it is the employer’s job to stamp it out and the best place to start is to have in place a strong bullying and harassment policy.

The first step when creating an anti-bullying and harassment policy is to communicate what bullying and harassment is. Examples include:

  • spreading malicious rumours
  • unfair treatment
  • picking on or regularly undermining someone
  • denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities

Bullying and harassment is not only face-to-face. It is important to be clear that behaviour which constitutes bullying may lead to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal if:

  • it occurs in a work situation
  • it occurs during any situation related to work such as at a social event with colleagues
  • it is against a colleague or other person connected to the employer outside of a work situation, including on social media
  • it is against anyone outside of a work situation where the incident is relevant to their suitability to carry out the role.

Harassment is unlawful and harassment legislation covers the victim suffering intimidating or offensive behaviour in relation to protected characteristics, which include: 

  • age
  • sex
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation

The most likely example of harassment is verbal or written harassment.  This can involve the sharing of offensive jokes or graphics about a protected characteristic—by email, group chat or social media. Imitating someone’s accent behind their back is another example of harassment.

Harassment is normally characterised by more than one incident of unacceptable behaviour, particularly if it recurs once it has been made clear that it is regarded by the victim as offensive. However, a single incident may constitute harassment if it is sufficiently serious.

To put it simply, it is good practice for organisations to implement a bullying and harassment policy. Not only does it make a statement of intent to create a safe workspace for employees, having such a policy in place can help improve the company culture, reduce staff turnover and generate a positive professional reputation, a positive and accepting work environment. If employees feel safe and protected, they will be more productive and less likely to leave.

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