Despite increasing awareness of the problems bullying and harassment can cause in the workplace, these behaviours still need to be addressed as part of an ongoing dialogue between employers and staff.
Without an official bullying and harassment policy, employers may be found liable for the actions of their employees who harass someone on the grounds of a protected characteristic – such as sex, age or race.
It is therefore essential for every business to set out a clear zero tolerance policy towards bullying and harassment and how they plan to prevent and resolve any potential issues. This informs all employees that there is a route they can follow if they experience bullying or harassment in the workplace, and that their complaint will be dealt with seriously.
What qualifies as bullying and harassment?
Harassment is classed as a form of unlawful discrimination and defined under the Equality Act 2010 as:
“Unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.”
The protected characteristics mentioned above are:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
Harassment can be a singular incident – for instance, if a colleague makes a sexist comment to a female colleague in front of other staff – or it can be a series of incidents directed towards one or more people.
Bullying differs slightly from harassment in that it tends to involve a gradual accumulation of small incidents over a longer period of time, and does not necessarily present a clear case for discrimination against a protected characteristic. View more information specific to bullying in the workplace.
The law behind bullying and harassment
A full breakdown of the chapter relating to harassment in the Equality Act 2010 is available here.
Bullying presents more of a grey area as there is no current legislation that clearly defines this behaviour unless it against a protected characteristic, which makes it more difficult to file a formal claim about bullying to an employment tribunal. However, there is an implied duty of care for the employer to ensure their staff have a working environment that does not affect their health and safety. Failure to do this, or to address reports of bullying, can result in constructive dismissal claim as covered by the Employment Rights Act 1996.
- Employers must share a clear zero tolerance Bullying and Harassment Policy with their staff that aims to identify and resolve any instances of bullying and harassment. This policy can also help to settle any disputes informally, which is preferable for everyone involved.
- While harassment is covered directly by the Equality Act 2010, there is no formal legislation on bullying which means it is often more difficult to spot and deal with.
- If you are looking for additional information relating to bullying in the workplace, read more here.
Bullying and harassment is directly related to the following aspects of employment: