Bullying tends to be something we associate with the playground but unfortunately, bullying doesn’t end when our school days are over. Bullying in the workplace is a common problem and it can create an unpleasant working environment which will negatively impact employee morale. So what can you do to tackle bullying in the workplace?
The Legal Stuff
It’s always a sensible idea to have a company policy on bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace. As well as protecting your employees and ensuring that they can carry out their duties in a safe environment, a policy also means that your company will comply with various UK and EU laws including the Sex Discrimination Act (1975), Race Relations Act (1976) and the Disability Discrimination Act (1996).
For further support surrounding these types of issues, seek guidance from a solicitor who specialises in employment law for employers.
What is Bullying?
Some examples of bullying include spreading malicious rumours, unfair treatment or ‘picking on’ someone due to personal prejudices, undermining a competent worker on a regular basis and any that makes a victim feel intimidated or offended. As well as face-to-face, bullying can occur via email, phone and letter. If the bully targets an employee based on their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability, this becomes a case of discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Discrimination and harassment in the workplace is illegal.
The Benefits of an Anti-Bullying Policy
All workplaces will experience a case of bullying at some point, and implementing a policy to deal with this sends out a clear message to employees that this behaviour is unacceptable and should they behave in this manner there will be an agreed course of action to combat any future instances. Having a policy that is successfully implemented in cases of bullying in the workplace also means that the employer is much less likely to become embroiled in employment tribunals and will be in a better position to defend themselves should this situation arise.
More often than not, the act of bullying says more about the incompetence of the bully than the victim, and the bully may be using the victim to project their own inadequacies on to, in order to cover up and distract from their failings. Getting to the root of the problem will create a more productive and competent working environment for both parties.
Responding to a Complaint
Complaints of bullying should always dealt with quickly and in a way that is objective to both parties involved. In all cases the complaint should be taken seriously and employers should ask themselves if what was said or done could reasonably be considered to have caused offence. The most appropriate action to take really depends on the specific case. For instance, the bully may not have been aware that their words or actions were causing offence and an informal discussion or bringing in an independent mediator to help both parties reach an agreement may be enough to rectify matters. Counselling may be the most appropriate action where doubts are expressed over the validity of the complaint and can support both the victim and the employee accused.
In more serious cases, this could be seen as an act of gross misconduct and dismissal of the accused may be the only appropriate option. This must also be dealt with fairly however, taking into account the employee’s previous record, informing them of the problem, holding meetings where the employee may be accompanied and providing the employee with the opportunity to appeal.