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Bullying in the Workplace – what can your business do to tackle it?

Today my son went off to school in his odd socks – one of the initiatives of Anti-Bullying Week which is taking place this week – and we talked about how, although people may look different, it is always important that we are kind to everyone. Unfortunately, bullying isn’t always left behind in the playground when we leave school, it can happen anywhere, not least in the workplace.

There aren’t any laws against bullying and there is no legal definition of what it constitutes either. ACAS describes it as unwanted behaviour that leaves a person feeling intimidated, degraded, humiliated and offended. It can be one of those things that, for the person experiencing it, can be hard to define or each act by itself might seem trivial. What it absolutely can do, however, is make for a pretty miserable existence at work for affected employees, resulting in lost productivity, absenteeism, high staff turnover, mental health issues for employees as well as reputational damage for employers.

In today’s world where many of us are now working from home, there may be some escape for employees who fear having to deal with certain colleagues or managers who subject them to bullying. However, employees are likely to be alone in their home working environment and so the micro-managing, the snide comments or the unrealistic deadlines have moved online but with no other colleagues around to witness the behaviour or offer support. Employees are perhaps more likely to feel isolated whilst working from home, with less opportunities to confide in colleagues (or in managers if the bullying stems from a colleague). Also, with less face to face interactions, there are more opportunities for words and actions to be misinterpreted, perhaps even more so at a time where so many of us are feeling the mental challenges of a second lockdown as the gloom of winter starts to set in.

All employers have a duty of care to protect their workers, so what can employers do to deal with bullying in the workplace?

  • An Anti-Bullying Policy setting out the kind of behaviour that a company will not tolerate is a key first step. It’s also really important to have a clear process for how employees should raise concerns about unwanted behaviour.
  • Ensure confidential lines of communication – often bullies are in a position of authority over the their target, so ensuring that there is a resource other than an immediate line manager to make confidential reports to may help to foster a ‘speak up’ culture. This could be through HR or there are platforms available, such as Work In Confidence, that facilitate confidential disclosures. 
  • Offering training for managers on how to deal with these situations may also help to prevent and tackle conflict in the workplace – a CIPD survey published earlier this year found that 34% of employers said one of the top barriers to effective conflict management is that managers don’t have the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour. Their researched showed that managers who had received training could help to stop conflict from occurring and were much better at fostering healthy relationships in their team. And when conflict did occur, they could help to resolve the issue more quickly and effectively.
  • Consider mediation between the complainant and the bully to try and restore the working relationship.

Failing to give adequate consideration to workplace bullying can have significant consequences for employers. Despite there being no specific law against bullying, if the bullying is linked to a protected characteristics of the employee then they might be able to claim some form of discrimination or harassment. There could also be civil claims if an employee can establish that they have suffered some form of personal injury as a result of the bullying, or if they can establish that there has been a breach of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. If the bullying is really serious then an employee may feel that they have no choice but to resign, leaving the employer exposed to a potential constructive unfair dismissal claim. And it’s not just in the courts and tribunals that an employer could feel the financial consequences, failing to stamp out bullying is bad for attraction and retention which will inevitably lead to recruitment costs. There will also be costs lost in productivity and attendance, which are likely to be impacted where an employee is suffering at the hands of a bully.

All employees are entitled to work in a safe environment, and sustainable employers will ensure that  they are fostering the right culture to ensure that they can offer this, as well as adopting robust employment policies to tackle any issues. 

LexLeyton can help businesses to create strategies for developing and maintaining the right policies to benefit culture and sustainable growth. Contact us for a free consultation and to discuss how we can help at legal@lexleyton.co.uk

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