Unless employers can show that they have taken steps to ensure that their staff do not treat each other in a way that could be deemed as discriminatory, they themselves will be held liable should any such act take place. This applies whether any act of discrimination carried out against an employee was done with or without their employer’s knowledge.

An employee can take their employer to employment tribunal claiming that they have not acted to prevent workplace bullying from taking place. If the bullying is based on the employee’s race, for example, or sexual orientation, then claim for harassment could be made. If it is behaviour of a more general nature, one possibility is the employee feeling they have no other option but to leave employment, and consequently bring a claim for constructive dismissal.

Harassment via email or on social networking sites can create a hostile atmosphere for an employee on the basis of which they could credibly claim they have been subjected to harassment.

Employers must put in place measures which outline the attitude towards this kind of behaviour. It is not acceptable in the workplace and employees should be made aware of this. The most effective way of getting this message across is to implement a policy of equal opportunities in the company. The policy should state acts of discrimination or harassment done in any way are not tolerated and disciplinary proceedings will be taken against anyone who acts in this way.

A further policy on email and internet use will set out the expected standards of employees’ behaviour with regard to the content of their communication. As well as explaining that emails which are not of a work nature are prohibited whilst at work, it should also specifically state what would be classed as prohibited content, including, but not limited to, anything which could constitute bullying or harassment. Reasonable limitations could also be set on use of social networking. Whilst it is not necessarily feasible to place a ban on employees using these sites in their own time, this policy can make it clear that work related matters should not be discussed and any breaches of this rule will be treated as though it had been done in the work arena.

For any further clarification, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.