We would hope that school bullies would grow out of their bad habits when they become adults, but unfortunately bullying does occur in the workplace.
You don’t want it to happen in your charity as bullying can cause grievances, absences, disengaged employees, resignations and claims. But the good news is that there are practical steps you can take to protect your charity.
What is bullying?
Acas defines bullying as ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’, so examples include picking on someone, spreading malicious rumours, ostracising them, unfairly criticising their work or undermining them.
An employee cannot make a claim for bullying to an Employment Tribunal. If, however, it falls under the scope of harassment and concerns one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act, they may be able to lodge a claim against you.
Under the Equality Act, harassment is defined as ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’. It can be in relation to someone’s age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
For example, you may face a claim for racial harassment if one of your managers is mimicking someone’s accent or making jokes about their country of origin.
Another point to remember is that even if an employee has tolerated the conduct towards them, or joined in with ‘banter’, it does not necessarily mean the conduct is not unwanted.
What are your duties?
Under the Equality Act, if an employee is found to have harassed another employee, the employer can be held responsible.
To avoid this, you must be able to prove that you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent employees from committing harassment in your workplace, so ensure it is clear to all employees that you do no tolerate bullying and harassment in your workplace. You should have a clear bullying and harassment policy in your Employee Handbook, which sets out your standards and expectations.
All managers should be trained to ensure they under stand all the relevant policies, can deal with any concerns that do arise and ensure their own management style does not step over the line.
Remind employees that it’s their responsibility to ensure that their behaviour does not cause offence and that any allegations made will be investigated and disciplinary action can be taken.
As you can see, bullying is a complex area so seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity. Call 0845 226 8393, ask for the Partnerships Legal Team and quote your ACEVO membership number.