Hybrid Working & Bullying: What Employers Need to Know
Shifts towards home and hybrid working make it harder for employers to manage inappropriate behavior at work and prevent bullying becoming an issue.
Bloomberg has reported that the employment tribunal has recently seen a 44% increase in claims involving bullying allegations. This is likely indicative of the difficulties employers face in dealing with such situations when employees are working remotely.
Such conduct might have been easily picked up in the office, but it’s much trickier to spot and stamp out when people are talking on chat apps and video calls. Most will associate online bullying with teenagers but this is no longer the case as large portions of the workforce are now working and meeting online. Adults are much more wily, however, and the forms of bullying that can take place (such as alienating colleagues online and excluding people from video meetings) are subtle and difficult to spot.
Whilst bullying in and of itself is not a legal claim, the forms it can take can give rise to tribunal claims (such as discrimination or whistleblowing) so creates a significant legal risk for employers. It can also have a detrimental impact on your staff’s mental health, already fragile because of the fall-out of Covid-19 and the cost of living issues, increasing sickness absences and putting further pressure on those that remain.
It’s therefore imperative that this matter is taken extremely seriously and employers seek to protect themselves and their employees from this form of bullying.
So, what can an employer do?
At the very minimum, employers who allow any form of remote working should have a cyber bullying policy that makes it clear what it is, that it won’t be tolerated and outline a process via which complaints can be heard. This should be communicated to your employees and line managers – the latter in detail given they will be implementing it day-to-day.
Where possible, staff should be given training on bullying in the workplace to complement the policy and any allegations of the same should be investigated appropriately.
All of these steps give employers the best possible chance of avoiding litigation in the first place, but also of defending claims by employees who have either been subjected to, or disciplined because of, cyber bullying.
Author: Jonothan Scollen, Employment Law Solicitor at Howarths