Harassment and Bullying
What is workplace harassment?
Harassment is generally defined as unwanted conduct. It may be based on a specific characteristic possessed by an individual, such as their age, race or sexual orientation, or it may be that the perpetrator of the harassment just does not like or get on with the individual that they are troubling.
There is no claim for ‘workplace bullying’ but there are things you can do to address it. The action you take and recourse you have will depend on the reason that you are being harassed.
What are some examples of workplace harassment?
What is the obligation of the employer in preventing harassment in the workplace?
Every employer has a duty of care to its employees and is therefore responsible for protecting them from harassment as far as it is possible to do so. An employer should take all reasonable steps to deal with and prevent harassment in the workplace.
What must the employer do when there is a harassment problem in the workplace?
The employer must take steps to investigate and address the problem. The employer is vicariously liable for the actions of its employees, which means it is responsible for their behaviour and can be held accountable for the behaviour and actions of its employees in court.
Upon receiving a grievance in relation to harassment, the employer must follow the grievance procedure, and must investigate the matter. Should the perpetrator of the harassment be found to have harassed another employee, appropriate disciplinary action should be taken according to the seriousness of the offence.
The employer must show that it has done everything reasonable to investigate and resolve the matter.
Even if a grievance has not been raised, if the employer becomes aware of harassment in the workplace it should still take steps to try to resolve and prevent this as a matter of good practice, and to protect itself and its employees.
What is the employer’s liability if it fails to deal with a harassment problem in the workplace?
If an employer fails to deal properly with a complaint of or obvious harassment, then the employee who is being harassed may issue a claim against the employer in the employment tribunal, even if the employer is not directly responsible for the harassment.
What can happen if a supervisor does not take the employee’s complaint of harassment seriously?
If a supervisor doesn’t take the employee’s complaint of harassment seriously, the employee will have a number of options.
Although the employee cannot bring a claim for ‘bullying’ as such, he or she might be able to resign and claim constructive dismissal. If the harassment relates to a ‘protected characteristic’ (i.e. age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation) then the employee may have a claim for discrimination.
What should an employee do if he or she is harassed by another person at work?
The employee should raise a grievance following the employer’s grievance procedure. This can usually be found in the employee handbook
What if a supervisor is harassing the employee?
If a supervisor is harassing an employee then the employee still has the right to ask their employer to address this by raising a grievance. If the grievance procedure states that the employee must raise a grievance with their supervisor, this of course would not be a suitable option if the grievance is about the supervisor.
If the grievance procedure doesn’t say what to do as an alternative if the grievance relates to a supervisor, then the employee should speak to someone else to ask what procedure to follow. If this is not an option, the grievance should be addressed to someone higher up than the supervisor, for example, your supervisor’s supervisor.
How to report harassment?
The best way to report harassment to your employer is by way of a grievance, as set out above.
If the harassment amounts to criminal activity then you may consider it necessary to contact the police.
What can we do to help?
If you are an employee who is being harassed, you may need help and support to understand your rights. We can assist by advising on how you can ask your employer to deal with the matter, and can explain whether your employer is liable for the actions of the person who is harassing you.
Here at SSB our employment law team can also assist employers who are dealing with harassment in the workplace, regardless of what stage the matter has reached. On occasion employers can be harassed by employees. If this is happening to you and you need advice on how to deal with this employee, we can assist.