How to manage bullying and harassment in the workplace

How to manage bullying and harassment in the workplace

With 2023 studies showing almost a third of employees have experienced workplace bullying, we wanted to check in with our clients to provide a refresher in handling these types of situations in the workplace.

Employers have a duty of care to their employees to provide a working environment free from harassment and bullying, ensuring all staff are treated with dignity.

It is important to recognise that harassment or bullying can occur both in and outside the workplace, such as on business trips or at work-related events or social functions. More surprisingly perhaps, employers must also consider potential inappropriate conduct by some third parties such as customers or suppliers.

Whilst bullying and harassment are often discussed hand in hand, it is important to recognise the difference between the two.

What is harassment?

Harassment is unwanted 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. A single incident can sometimes amount to harassment.

It can involve conduct of a sexual nature or be related to a protected characteristic such as age, disability, gender (or gender reassignment), marital or civil partner status, pregnancy or maternity, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.

A person may be harassed even if they were not the intended target, for example of they are a bystander of another being harassed.

What is bullying?

Bullying is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour involving the misuse of power that can make a person feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened.

It can also include overbearing and intimidating levels of supervision or inappropriate derogatory remarks about someone's performance.

How to manage bullying in the workplace

If an employee feels they are being bullied in the workplace, it may be possible to raise the issue informally by speaking with the “perpetrator” directly or to their line manager.

If an informal resolution is unsuccessful or inappropriate for the particular employee, they may raise a formal complaint in writing as a formal grievance. The grievance should detail the conduct in question, the dates when this occurred (remember this might not always be available) and identify any witnesses that may have been present.

As employer must always investigate complaints in a timely and confidential manner. A meeting should then be scheduled as soon as possible with the employee raising the complaint, ensuring the employee is notified of their right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or a colleague.

Depending on the severity of the allegation the company may consider suspending the alleged harasser/bully on full pay; however, there are certain issues to consider and we would refer to our earlier broadcast concerning suspending an employee (Suspending an Employee | Stallard Kane).

The company will also need to meet with the alleged perpetrator, and it is important to note they will also have the right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative, in line with your company’s standard grievance policy.

You will then need to interview any witnesses, before an outcome is reached and reported in the appropriate manner.

What next?

We mentioned at the outset of this article that employers have a duty of care to their employees; if you have knowledge of harassment or bullying in the workplace, what you decide to do next could be crucial.

The company will need to consider how best to manage the ongoing relationship between the employees involved, whether mediation or counselling may be appropriate to seek to repair that working relationships and whether more practical working arrangements are appropriate to protect all parties.

Employees raising grievances surrounding bullying and harassment (or indeed on any basis) must not suffer any retaliation as a result as this could result in subsequent complaints of victimisation. It is therefore important that all allegations are taken seriously and handled appropriately in line with the correct processes.

Managing employee relationships and grievances can be difficult, particularly when associated with sensitive matters like bullying and harassment. It is therefore essential you consult with your dedicated HR Advisor to ensure the process and decisions you make are fitting to your specific case.

About the author

This article is provided by our sister company, Stallard Kane, a specialist risk management service provider offering expert advice and solutions in Health and Safety, HR, Risk Solutions and Training. This article is for general guidance only and aims to provide general information on a relevant topic in a concise form. This article should not be regarded as advice in relation to a particular circumstance. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific advice.

If you want a truly personalised service, contact your usual Towergate advisor today who can put you in touch with Stallard Kane’s HR Team to discuss your requirements – call 01427 420 403 or email, and #oneoftheteam will be happy to help.