It is often believed that bullying only occurs in the school playground, with bullies being misguided unruly youths, who eventually grow out of their behaviour. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and bullying in the workplace is a massive issue for both employees and employers.
Bullying and harassment in the workplace not only negatively effects the individual on the receiving end of the unwanted behaviour, but also can have a detrimental impact on the culture of the business, staff morale and productivity. It is in everyone’s interest to identify and address issues which arise, promptly, fairly and consistently.
It can also be very costly in the event of a claim within the Employment Tribunal.
What is bullying in the workplace?
Bullying is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour that can make a person feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened.
In the workplace. bullying can take the form of physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct and may include
- physical or psychological threats;
- overbearing and intimidating levels of supervision;
- inappropriate derogatory remarks about someone’s performance.
What is harassment?
Harassment is any unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
Unlawful harassment may involve conduct of a sexual nature (sexual harassment), or it may be related to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partner status, pregnancy or maternity, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. Harassment is unacceptable even if it does not fall within any of these categories.
Case Law Examples
How might this effect you as an employee. See below some examples of actual cases that have been successful in the Employment Tribunal.
- In Bivonas LLP and other v Bennett, a handwritten note found by an employee referring to his ‘batty boy mate’ was direct sexual orientation discrimination. In this case, the importance of providing employees with training on equality and diversity was emphasised.
- Repeated questions about an employee’s sexuality amounted to sexual harassment and the company was criticised for dismissing the behaviour as ‘office banter’ in Austin v Samuel Grant (North East) Ltd.
- Even a one-off comment is enough to constitute discrimination. In Clements v Lloyds Banking plc and others the comment ‘you are not 25 anymore’ was found to be age discrimination.
- In Harper v Housing 21, repeatedly likening an employee to a women on ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ was direct race discrimination, racial harassment and warranted constructive dismissal.
- What constituted acceptable office banter was considered in Minto v Wernick Event Hire Ltd. The tribunal said: “‘Banter’ is a loose expression, covering what otherwise might be abusive behaviour on the basis that those participating do so willingly and on an equal level. It can easily transform into bullying when a subordinate employee effectively has no alternative but to accept/participate in this conduct to keep his or her job.”
What should you do as an employer?
What should you do as an employee?
What legal claims do you need to be aware of?
An employer who fails to address complaints of bullying and harassment, or handles a complaint incorrectly, could find themselves on the receiving end of an employment tribunal or county court claim. An employee may be able to bring claims for discrimination, constructive unfair dismissal, personal injury and breach of contract.
It is important that Employers have clear policies contained within in their Staff or Employee Handbook. If you do not have an Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy, a Disciplinary Policy, a Grievance Policy, or even a Staff or Employee Handbook, then Bhayani HR & Employment can provide you with everything you need to ensure your business is compliant and proactively addressing issues relating to bullying and harassment.
How can we help you?
If you are an employee and you are unhappy with how your employer has dealt with an issue, you should seek legal advice for further confirmation and clarification of your rights and any legal action you may be able to take. We have a team of specialist solicitors, with years of experience in bringing successful legal claims arising from bullying and harassment.
For help with any HR or employment law matter call our expert advisors on 0114 3032300 or email [email protected]