Workplace Harassment

09 July 2019

It's important for businesses to create a safe and comfortable work environment–free of discriminatory and bullying behaviours.

Workplace harassment is a serious issue which must be dealt with as soon as it's discovered. This type of unwanted behaviour in the workplace can lead to detrimental impacts on employee relations.

In some cases, employees may raise harassment grievances to an employment tribunal. And if you're found guilty, you could face hefty compensation fines and business damages.

In this guide, we'll look at what harassment is, UK laws on workplace harassment, and how to eliminate it from your business.

What is workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment is when a person or group experiences unwanted behaviour that's belittling, hostile, and even aggressive.

This type of behaviour can root from a line manager, co-worker, and the general public. Workplace bullying and harassment can occur through a one-off incident, or as a reoccurring one.

In the end, being treated badly leaves lasting impacts on an individual's dignity and self-esteem. When employees experience a hostile work environment, it affects the entire workforce and overall business.

(Harassment causes long-lasting impacts on a person's dignity and self-worth).

Are there different forms of workplace harassment?

There are many forms of harassment that a person can experience. And these can be categorised as either physical or emotional harassment. Different forms found in the workplace include:

Discriminatory harassment

This is offensive conduct against a person's protected characteristics, just like all forms of harassment. For example, an employee is treated unfairly because of their national origin or religious beliefs.

Personal harassment

This involves constant criticism or conduct which directly relates to the person. For example, setting impossible deadlines for one particular employee and not others.

Physical harassment

This involves a hostile environment which exudes workplace violence. When this is found, you need to inform the police accordingly. For example, physical behaviour can include destroying objects, expressing threatening behaviour, or resorting to physical violence.

Psychological harassment

This involves insulting behaviour creating drastic effects on a person's mental health. This form can impact one's professional and personal life. For example, employees might suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression due to harassing behaviour.

Power harassment

This is when a senior manager or employer evokes intimidating behaviour. For example, asking subordinates to complete personal tasks or else they could be let go.

Online harassment

This is also known as cyberbullying and is very common in recent times due to the rise in technological communication. For example, leaving negative or hurtful comments on a colleague's personal social media platform.

Retaliation harassment

This is when a person seeks revenge after suffering from an isolated incident. For example, an employee purposefully re-enacts the same offensive behaviour they've experienced at work.

Sexual harassment

This is considered one of the most common forms. People who have experienced sexual harassment may have gone through both verbal and physical abuse. For example, an employee receives emails that include the language of a sexual nature.

Verbal harassment

This includes making someone feel uncomfortable through words and conversations. For example, making threats or shouting abuse–on both a private and public level.

(Sexual harassment is one of the most common forms found in the workplace).

What are the consequences of harassment in the workplace?

When it comes to workplace conduct, harassment can be detrimental for your business.

Harassment can be linked to all sorts, like absenteeism, poor mental wellbeing, or disengagement. Some of the most common consequences include:

  • Poor employee relations: Having good teamwork ethic is vital for any type of business. When a working relationship is poor, it affects everyone. And this is regardless of whether it's between colleagues or superiors.
  • Hostile environments: A hostile workplace atmosphere is one of the most detrimental factors for businesses. When a work environment is toxic or negative, it decreases morale; and this is extremely difficult to contain.
  • Loss of productivity: If the workforce is demotivated, the entire working process becomes affected. It's hard to run a business if the staff are undervalued or working in fear. Without them, productivity is affected–along with revenue and brand name.
  • Decrease in employee retention: Employees may no longer wish to stay employed in such a business. They could turn in their resignations or leave without notice. And if this is a repeated situation, the reputation of your business is on the line.
  • Lack of respect and loyalty: Those employees who remain will have witnessed the business at its worst. They might have experienced demotivated staff or hostile episodes between managers and subordinates. Either way, the business will have lost a decent level of respect and loyalty.

Are bullying and harassment the same?

Most of the time, both bullying and harassment are commonly interchanged. But there's a difference beyond how they're defined.

Harassment is related to unwanted conduct or behaviour. These can offend or discriminate against certain characteristics, like sexuality or religious belief.

Bullying is not specifically defined under this act or other employment laws. It relates to the individual themselves rather than specific characteristics. However, in some situations, bullying may be covered by equality laws.

The defining area between the two is somewhat grey. However, it's easier to establish which one is applicable through individual situations.

(Bullying and harassment are commonly interchanged, but they are defined separately through the law).

What are UK laws on workplace harassment?

In the UK, harassment, bullying, and victimization all come under discrimination.

The Employment Equality Act 2010 defines harassment 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’.

Such discrimination laws outline nine protected characteristics:

You should follow the guidance set out in the Code of Practice on employment. These aren't legal rulings, but they do provide conduct expectations and grievance management.

Can an employee raise a harassment claim?

Yes, an employee is legally allowed to raise a formal complaint of harassment.

The Equality Act 2010 allows employees to take legal action if they believe they suffered from unlawful harassment. And this applies to those applying for a job, in current employment, and leaving their work position.

Employees might claim constructive dismissal or discrimination to an employment tribunal. Here, you could be found guilty of constructive unfair dismissal or breaching employment rights. Such outcomes lead to costly penalties and business damages.

(If an employee believes they were treated unequally or unfairly, they could raise their claim to tribunals).

How to eliminate harassment in the workplace

Every business owner must take reasonable measures to tackle bullying and harassment.

By doing so, you can promote strong employee relations, comfortable environments, and a healthy business ethos.

Here are ways to eliminate harassment in the workplace:

Promote a safe and secure workplace environment

As mentioned, your business environment must be one that promotes safety, equality, and security.

When you create a workspace that champions mutual trust, respect, and dignity, it eliminates any form of inappropriate behaviour. Good behaviour exceeds through attitudes, traditions, and practices–from both employees and managers.

Manage harassment grievances accordingly

Depending on the extent of the situation, there are distinct steps to take when managing harassment grievances. For example:

  • Mediation: This allows you to manage a case before it's escalated to a higher level. A third person or party will help resolve matters; aiming to keep the peace between the two sides.
  • Formal procedures: Most of the time, you will need to action a formal procedure for harassment cases. That's why it's important to ensure your grievance and disciplinary procedures are water-tight and fair.
  • Investigations: When formal cases have been raised, you need to initiate an investigation into the matter. This means collecting information, evidence, and accounts. You need to keep cases confidential and not allow any part of the investigation to affect a victim's current job.

Review your policies, procedures, and training

You need to focus on preventing bullying and harassment–in all areas of the business. That means reviewing your policies, procedures, and training areas.

For example, include zero-tolerance for harassment in every employment contract or employee handbook.

These rules should include factors like:

  • What constitutes harassing behaviour at work.
  • What disciplinary procedures will be actioned for inappropriate behaviour
  • How employees can raise claims without fears for job security or progression.
  • How managers can apply training to spot and prevent harassment.

Provide emotional support for employee wellbeing

When an employee mentions they've experienced harassment, you need to action the right steps straightaway.

So, provide the right support for employee wellbeing (for both physical and mental). With access to the right advice and counselling, employees can better themselves and their current situation.

(Tackling harassment will help promote employee relations, comfortable environments, and good business ethos).

Get expert advice on managing workplace harassment with Peninsula

It's so important for businesses to promote a workplace that's free from harassment.

By doing so, you can ensure employees can work in a safe and secure working environment. But if you neglect harassment claims, you could end up facing dissatisfied staff, production losses, and even battling a constructive dismissal through a tribunal hearing.

Peninsula offers expert guidance on managing workplace harassment. Our HR team offers 24/7 HR employment advice which is available 365 days a year. We also provide advice through multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors who are ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free chat with one of our HR consultants. For further information, call 0800 028 2420.

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