Workplace Bullying

Bullying happens and it can happen everywhere, in the playground, sometimes in the home and sometimes in the workplace. As an employer, you have a legal duty of care to protect the health and safety of your employees at work.

How Employers can aim to prevent bullying.

With the aim of addressing and letting your staff know that you are addressing, and if necessary, tackling bullying, you should have an appropriate anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy and procedure in place.

There is no legal definition of bullying, however, various employment law claims can result from bullying in the workplace. Two of these come from the Equality Act 2010.

The first protects people if they are being bullied because of a protected category and just as a reminder, the protected characteristics are sex, race, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or religious belief, maternity or pregnancy, marriage or civil partnership and gender reassignment  and, as an example, someone may be being bullied because they have a disability, because they are undergoing gender reassignment or because they are a woman. 

The second bullying legal claim that can come from the Equality Act 2010 is the claim of harassment which again has to be linked to one of the protected characteristics above. With harassment, the question is whether the alleged bullying behaviour has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, creating a hostile, intimidating or degrading environment. In such cases, the employee can bring a claim for harassment and the test is how the recipient of the bullying feels, rather than the intention of the bully.  

Another claim that can be brought is under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and in such cases, if an employee is being bullied by a co-worker, you as the employer can be held vicariously liable.  This is a criminal offence and the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt and therefore is higher than in the two examples linked with the Equality Act. 

Employees can also resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal claiming that the employer has acted in breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence by failing in their duty of care towards them. It would also be possible for an employee to whistle blow if they see bullying going on in the workplace, however, this is more tenuous and there is less case law on this. 

So, what can you, as the employer, do to stop bullying?  The first step is to have an anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy and procedure in place and to ensure that all staff are aware of this, either through your induction process or as a result of training.  It is also important that senior managers and shop floor or line managers buy into this concept with the aim of cultivating a “speak out” culture if bullying is seen. 

It is always important to see that policies and procedures are updated and reviewed, this is not only to check that they are in line with the current law but also as it acts as a reminder for management to send out an update to staff about bullying and harassment rather than having a procedure drafted, say, several years ago, which is seen by nobody and is in a manager’s drawer somewhere.

To discuss the topic of Workplace Bullying, your Workplace policies or any other Employment Law related matter all us on 0161 785 3500 and talk to Susan or Victoria.