Bullying, unfortunately, doesn’t always end with school. The modern workplace contains a variety of different characters and personalities, some of whom may be stronger than others. Sometimes, particularly when a member of staff with a very strong personality is in close daily contact with a weaker-willed individual, this can result in bullying and harassment.
Not only is this bad for business in terms of morale and productivity, it is also important to remember that as an employer you have a responsibility to take steps to prevent bullying and harassment. If an employee who has been subjected to harassment by a co-worker decides to take the matter to an employment tribunal, you as an employer can be held accountable if you fail to take reasonable steps to prevent bullying.
In cases where the bullying has become so severe that it causes the person to resign, then they may be able to make a claim for constructive dismissal against the company, if it is deemed that not enough was done to prevent the bullying from taking place.
So what can you do to prevent bullying in the workplace and maintain a positive working climate?
• Draw up an anti-bullying and harassment policy. The government’s Business Link site recommends creating your bullying/harassment policy “in consultation with staff and/or their representatives”. The government’s recommendations on what to include in this policy can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/workplace-bullying-and-harassment
• Ensure that all of your staff are aware of your policies on bullying and harassment, and of the possible consequences and disciplinary actions that may result from such behaviour. Above all, make it clear that bullying or intimidation of any kind will not be tolerated in the workplace. Also ensure that staff are aware of what action they should take if they or someone else is the target of bullying, intimidation or harassment in the workplace.
• Promote teamwork and foster understanding in the workplace. Sometimes bullying can be a result of perceived differences and failure to communicate. Team training events and company outings can help to break down barriers that exist, and enable employees to get to know one another in a different setting.
• Be aware that bullying can take place in the virtual world too. Emails and online messaging applications have revolutionised communication in many workplaces. But it is important to remember that, as with any new tool, they can be abused. Make sure that your anti-bullying policies cover electronic as well as face-to-face harassment.
• When bullying is alleged to have taken place, investigate and take any necessary actions immediately. Doing so ensures that the matter can be resolved quickly, and makes it absolutely clear that bullying is unacceptable and will be dealt with swiftly and thoroughly.
• Educate yourself and your managers about the problem of bullying and about your responsibilities. There are many online resources that can help, including trade union Unison’s extensive ‘Bullying at Work’ guidelines (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/13375.pdf).