Allegations of bullying and harassment have been made against two Conservative government ministers, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Minister of State without Portfolio Gavin Williamson. Whilst rigorously denied, Williamson has since resigned his cabinet post.
MPs are, of course, not ‘employed’ in the traditional sense, but these allegations do turn the spotlight once again on harassment and bullying in the workplace.
The resulting apologies and attempts to downplay their behaviour display a worrying trend towards normalising bullying and harassment in the workplace. The human impact is all too easily overlooked and lost.
Harassment and bullying in the workplace is sadly commonplace. Whilst the terms are often used interchangeably, bullying, unlike harassment, is not a type of employment claim although it is often behind a constructive dismissal resignation and claim.
Harassment is defined from a legal perspective as unwanted behaviour which is humiliating, upsetting or violates dignity. It must also be linked to a protected characteristic under discrimination law such as sex or race, for example, to proceed with an employment claim.
ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, says that an individual may feel harassed if they are ‘disrespected, frightened, humiliated, insulted, intimidated, threatened or undermined’. Actions by a colleague can count as harassment whether intended or not. Every person is different and will react differently to how they are being treated at work. This needs to be factored in by all managers.
Whilst not defined in law, bullying can also be described says ACAS as ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting’ behaviour that is ‘an abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates or causes emotional or physical harm’ to an individual.
Bullying can happen in the workplace or by colleagues outside of work, can include repeated micro-aggressions, and increasingly happens online.
Employers will leave themselves exposed to potential employment tribunal claims where allegations of harassment and bullying are made.
In the first instance, employers are recommended to have up-to-date policies that clearly explain where the boundaries are and what will happen should they be crossed. Policies need to be regularly revisited and updated to reflect the changing nature of the way we work, supported by training of managers and those in positions of responsibility. They will be scrutinised at any Employment Tribunal.
Workplace bullies can easily become a liability for their employer particularly if multiple complaints are made. It takes up valuable management time dealing with grievances about bullying and can have a detrimental impact on morale.
Individuals who believe they are being bullied or harassed in the workplace should not be expected to suffer alone or in silence. Allegations should not be ignored or dismissed as workplace banter or put down to the stressful nature of the job. “I was frustrated” is not an acceptable excuse. Nor is “they did not seem upset at the time” or “I didn’t mean to cause offence”.
Employers may not only find themselves facing costly employment tribunal claims but also reputational damage as disgruntled employees share their experiences on social media and review sites such as Glassdoor.
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The above is accurate as at 17 November 2022. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times
The content of this event should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.