Making bullying and harassment a thing of the past

With harassment, bullying and sexual misconduct highlighted in the news recently, no employer can afford to be complacent.

Allegations of such behaviour towards employees or others can do serious harm to the reputation of a business. Ignoring the issue can lead to expensive and damaging litigation. Employers need to know what behaviour amounts to harassment or bullying and have procedures to stop it effectively and quickly.

Defining the problem

Bullying is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, the abuse or misuse of power by undermining, humiliating, denigrating or injuring the recipient.

Harassment is defined under the Equality Act 2010. It consists of unwelcome behaviour that is:

  • Intended to violate, or has the effect of violating, an individual’s dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.
  • Related to a protected characteristic – age, disability, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation or gender reassignment.

Harassment may come from another employee or from someone else, such as a customer. Examples of unacceptable behaviour are exclusion, victimisation, spreading rumours, unfair treatment, overbearing supervision, blocking an individual’s training or promotion opportunities and making sexual advances or comments.

Addressing the issues

Employers have a duty under the Equality Act to prevent harassment at work. Here are some things employers should do:

  • Consider making a statement that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated. Involve staff in framing such a statement.
  • Have fair and strong grievance and disciplinary procedures.
  • Assure employees that any allegations will be taken seriously, investigated and handled confidentially.
  • Make sure managers will challenge inappropriate behaviour and comments.
  • Establish a culture in which employees feel able contribute their views rather than being instructed what to do.
  • Consider whether any training is needed to rectify any lack understanding of what bullying and harassment are.

Having good systems can provide an employer with a defence if there is a tribunal claim, and help produce a happy and productive workplace.


This newsletter is for general information only and is not intended to be advice to any specific person. You are recommended to seek competent professional advice before taking or refraining from taking any action on the basis of the contents of this publication. The newsletter represents our understanding of law and HM Revenue & Customs practice as at 15 January 2018.


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