Dealing with Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace: What the Law Says

Bullying and harassment is behaviour that unfortunately occurs too often, and it’s in everybody’s interest to eradicate this behaviour. It’s neither healthy nor productive – it’s childish and immature, seriously misguided, and it can leave lasting scars on the victim’s psyche. Still, even in the workplace, a place where everyone should come together as mature people united in a common goal, it happens.

Employers have a duty to do everything they reasonably can to protect the health and safety of every employee, and also to prevent bullying and harassment. But how can it be prevented, and if it does rear its ugly head, what should be done? Here’s a guide to dealing with harassment and bullying in the workplace: what the law says.

Bullying and harassment defined

Bullying and harassment may seem like the same thing – and they do include many common elements – but they are different; bullying is not considered to be unlawful in the UK (although many opine it should be), whilst harassment has been declared illegal and unlawful. Both include actions such as:

  • Unfair treatment
  • Spreading rumours
  • Regularly undermining a coworker
  • Denying training or promotion opportunities
  • Picking on or purposely annoying someone

Bullying isn’t illegal

Bullying is unfortunately not considered unlawful – although many might feel it should be. Beware, however, that it’s very close to harassment, and it can happen through various media: in person, through mail or email, by phone or through social networking, and so on.

Harassment is unlawful

Harassment is unlawful, so if it can be proven that bullying is based on a certain discrimination, it is considered harassment. These are the criteria that it should be based on:

  • Age
  • Sex (gender)
  • Sexual preference
  • Religion
  • Ethnic background
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy or maternity
  • Or any other protected criteria.

What employees should do

An employee suffering from bullying or harassment should always try to sort the problem out in an informal manner first. If that doesn’t work, however, the employee should let management or the HR department know about it.

HR procedures

HR should have formal procedures in place when it comes to both preventing and dealing with cases of bullying and harassment. These policies and procedures should be widely known and communicated within the company. For example, procedures such as interviews as part of an investigation should be recorded, transcribed by transcription services UK experts such as Alphabet Secretarial, and included in the final written report.

It’s important that management receive training on how to recognise bullying and how to implement policies that both prevent and counter bullying and harassment – they should lead by example, after all. Furthermore, the company should communicate their clear stance on the issue and creating awareness through training can help accomplish this. Bullying and harassment is awful; there are no winners. It’s management’s responsibility to avoid it at any cost.


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