This week ACAS have reported that workplace bullying is growing in the UK and that many people are too scared to speak out about the issue. They have received approximately 20,000 calls in the past year related to bullying and harassment, with some callers reporting that workplace bullying caused them to self-harm or consider suicide.
Specifically the report identified that:
- Ill-treatment often continued to the point where some people dreaded going to work, with many taking leave to escape the workplace;
- Managers who were alerted to bullying often just moved staff around, rather than dealing with underlying behaviours.
ACAS have also announced that the financial impact of bullying-related absenteeism, from loss of turnover and productivity, is around £317.65bn a year.
Can employers ever be liable for workplace bullying?
Whilst it’s not possible for an employee to issue a claim for bullying in an employment tribunal as a freestanding claim, employers could be liable in a number of other ways including:
- Businesses who fail to respond properly to complaints of workplace bullying could face claims of constructive unfair dismissal, if an employee chooses to resign as a result of their treatment;
- If bullying is related to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (e.g. the employee’s sex, race, disability, age) it is likely to constitute harassment and give rise to a claim of unlawful discrimination;
- Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, employers could be held vicariously liable if the victim is harassed by one of his or her colleagues in the course of the employment (this type of claim would need to be brought in the county court as opposed to the employment tribunal).
What can employers do to prevent claims?
Although there is no legal requirement to have a separate policy on harassment and bullying, we always advise clients to have a policy in place in addition to their grievance and disciplinary policies.
Having a separate policy makes it clear to employees that the business takes allegations of bullying and harassment seriously and is willing to take action to protect employees from such incidents.
A separate policy can also provide the business with an opportunity to set out what behaviour will be viewed as bullying and harassment, and make it clear that this can include physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct, as well as online bullying. The policy can also make it clear that incidents of bullying will be categorised as gross misconduct offences which may ultimately lead to dismissal.
Where a complaint is raised by an employee, this should be investigated without delay. Furthermore, if that complaint is raised by way of a formal grievance, employees should be invited to a grievance hearing to discuss the issue further and this should be done in accordance with the business’ grievance policy.
Incidents of workplace bullying can be particularly difficult to investigate because often it will be a case of one person’s word against another.
If you require any further advice or assistance in dealing with a particular issue, please do not hesitate to contact our Employment Law & HR team on 0161 475 7676 and we can guide you through this process.