Harassment and bullying cases can be extremely costly to employers, especially if they reach an Employment Tribunal. In addition to the cost implications of such matters, employers can be affected by adverse publicity and affects to reputation, poor employee relations and morale, inefficiency and loss of employees.
Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassing behaviour in their organisation, and it is therefore essential that employers take any such matter seriously, and take sufficient precautions to prevent bullying and harassment in their workplace.
Defining Bully and Harassment
Harassment is defined under UK employment law 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 or offensive environment for that individual’. Sexual Harassment carries the same definition but the conduct is of a sexual nature.
‘Protected characteristics’, as defined by the Equality Act 2010, include sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, age and religion or belief. Under the Act, which came into force in October 2010, the scope of the term ‘harassment’ has been extended to cover not only the individual subject to the harassment, but protection is now also afforded to employees who, by way of association with someone with a protected characteristic, find themselves in an offensive environment.
Preventing Harassment and Bullying at Work
In order to prevent occurrences of harassment or bullying in the workplace, employers are encouraged to have an open and honest relationship with their staff, whereby employees feel that they can come forward with any problems they may be experiencing, whether it involves them or other members of staff. As in all employment law matters, prevention is better than the cure.
The most effective preventative measures include:
- Producing updated contracts of employment
- Implementing and communicating a thorough and detailed policy
- Providing appropriate training
If mutual trust and confidence has been broken as a result of workplace harassment, a claim can be made against an employer for constructive dismissal. Employers can also be liable for harassment of their employees by third parties if the harassment has occurred on more than two occasions, the employer was aware of it and has failed to prevent it happening again.