Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

There have been high profile harassment cases in the news recently.

McDonald’s has apologised after more than 100 current and ex-employees alleged sexual harassment was abundant in the workplace.

A former employee of National Grid was awarded nearly £360,000 in compensation due to sustained sexual harassment by her supervisor.

In a recent survey by People Management, 52.2% of people questioned thinks that there is more sexual harassment in the workplace now than 5 years ago.

What is harassment? 
In discrimination law (Equality Act 2010) there are 3 types of harassment:
1. harassment related to certain ‘protected characteristics’ (age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation)
2. sexual harassment
3. less favourable treatment as a result of harassment.

Harassment and bullying are often confused.

Although there is no legal definition of bullying, it can be described as unwanted behaviour from a person or group that is either:
offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting
an abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, or causes physical or emotional harm to someone.

To be harassment, the unwanted behaviour must have either have:
* violated the person’s dignity
* created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.

It can be harassment if the behaviour:
* has one of these effects even it was not intended
* intended to have one of these effects even if it did not have that effect.

By law, whether someone’s behaviour counts as harassment depends on:
* the circumstances of the situation
* how the person receiving the unwanted behaviour views it
* if the person receiving the behaviour is ‘reasonable’ to view it as they do.

If someone makes a harassment claim to an employment tribunal, the judge would consider whether a ‘typical’ person would see the behaviour as harassment.

What are your responsibilities are business owners and leaders?

No organisation is immune to experiencing incidences of harassment and bullying, however it is your organisation’s duty to take reasonable measures to prevent it and to take claims seriously.  We recommend that you:

*Introduce mandatory training for all staff and specific training for managers on how to investigate claims.
* Investigate claims thoroughly. 68.8% of those surveyed by People Management said that they would feel confident that if they bought a claim of sexual harassment, it would be investigated seriously. This figure needs to be higher.  Have a clear and comprehensive policy setting out the organisations position on harassment and bullying and how claims will be investigated and dealt with.
* Consider implementing a whistleblowing helpline.
* Know your company culture. Conduct regular surveys and act on feedback.
* Provide support to employees who have been subject to harassment or bullying, for example, counselling.
* Consider if mediation may be appropriate between the parties.
* Support your managers or HR team that conduct investigations, this can be a difficult time for them. 

We can conduct training sessions on anti-bullying and anti-harassment.  If you’d like to know more, please get in touch.
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