Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace
Bulling and harassment in the workplace continues to make headlines, and highlight how important it is that businesses do all they can to ensure their workplaces are free of all forms of unacceptable behaviour.
In April, Dominic Raab, then the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, resigned after a report by Adam Tolley KC criticised his “unreasonably and persistent aggressive conduct” and found that he was “intimidating” towards civil servants.
This came just weeks after more than a dozen women claimed to have been victims of various forms of sexual misconduct and harassment by senior figures at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). One employee described being told by a male colleague that “everyone should be bullied once in their lifetime” as part of an ongoing campaign of verbal abuse.
A survey carried out by YouGov in 2023 found that one in five people in the UK have experienced bullying as an adult, with more than half (56%) of these incidents involving bullying by a boss or manager, and 47% involving bullying by a colleague.
The Equality Act (2010) defines harassment at work 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 key aspect here from an Employment Law perspective is that in order to prove harassment in law, the conduct must relate to a protected characteristic. These are sex, age, race, sexuality to name but a few. In the case of Dominic Raab, it is not clear that his conduct necessarily related to a protected characteristic.
Incidences of harassment or bullying may also fall under the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), which defines harassment as “a persistent and deliberate course of unacceptable and oppressive conduct, targeted at another person, which is calculated to and does cause that person alarm, fear or distress”. Employers have vicarious liability for harassment by their employees under the Protection from Harassment Act and this may apply in situations where a protected characteristic is not in place.
What is clear from the recent stories about harassment and bullying in the workplace is that this continues to be a big problem. This can be disastrous for businesses and employees, who deserve to feel safe and supported at work.
The journalist and broadcaster Andrea Adams publicised the issue of workplace bullying after drawing attention to the issue in her radio programme ‘An Abuse of Power’. Although legislation has moved on since Adams’ death in 1995, the core tenets that employers should put in place to ensure that their workplaces are places where bullying and harassment will not be tolerated include:
- Developing leadership teams who set examples through their behaviour
- Empowering management to act quickly to address problematic behaviour
- Educate employees to understand what constitutes appropriate behaviour at work and give them confidence to stop or report unwelcome behaviour
- Put in place support to ensure concerns are addressed, fair investigations take place and resolutions are quickly achieved
Clear and accessible anti-bullying policies are vital for all workplaces, big and small. They should clearly communicate the dedication of the organisation to stamp out bullying and harassment and to protect their employees. The policy should also make it clear what procedures will take place should there be a complaint of bullying or harassment, and what the consequences would be for the perpetrator.
As a purpose-driven business, we put our core values at the heart of everything we do, and hope to help employers and employees understand their rights around bullying and harassment at work, and the important steps that can be taken to prevent such incidents taking place.
If employers would like a complimentary template bullying and harassment policy please email email@example.com