As Dominic Raab has recently found out, bullying in the workplace can have numerous consequences for employers and their staff – and it’s usually a lot more subtle than someone throwing things around or swearing.
Firstly, bullying in and of itself is not a specific legal claim and you won’t find any reference to bullying in the Equality Act or the Employment Rights Act.
However, taking the legal point of view first, the form that the bullying takes could expose the employer to a tribunal claim. For instance, if individuals were making offensive comments related to someone’s age, race or disability then this would give rise to discrimination claims. Another example would be management singling an individual out by criticising them and/or subjecting them to performance management without basis. This could result in a constructive unfair dismissal claim if an employee with long-service resigned in response to the treatment.
In the age of remote working, bullying can be much more difficult to identify and manage when staff aren’t all together in one place. It might be taking place within private or specific group WhatsApp chats or take the form of excluding someone from calls/meetings by intentionally not inviting them.
Aside from the legal risk, there are the obvious commercial risks that an employer who doesn’t take this issue seriously or manage it if/when it happens will probably have a demotivated workforce, poor staff retention and be spending most of their time putting out fires. Not exactly the blueprint for business success.
So, what can an employer do?
Well prevention is always better than cure here – have a bullying and harassment policy which makes it clear that such behaviour will not be tolerated. Bolster this with things like stress at work policies which will help set standards and reduce the chances of bullying happening in the first place. Don’t just tick a box by having these sorts of things in place – train staff on such matters annually. Taking steps like this can even provide employers with a specific legal defence to certain tribunal claims should a situation arise despite the efforts taken to avoid it.
If an allegation of bullying is made, take it seriously and investigate matters with an open mind. This not only reduces the risk of legal issues, but also makes it clear to staff who will be watching that these sorts of issues aren’t going to be ignored. If you uncover evidence which suggests that bullying has taken place, then consider disciplinary action against the perpetrators and consider if suspension is appropriate.
In short, it’s about being alive to the issue, putting in place preventative measures and taking action when needed. It will save employers lots of time, cost and stress in the long run – especially if managers are given the tools and know-how to deal with such issues as soon they arise.
If you have any queries about bullying in the workplace, related policies or require any support with managing such issues, please contact the advisory team on 01274 864 999