Workplace bullying and harassment issues firmly back on the agenda

30 November 2021 / Insight posted in Article

As an employer, you want to retain your valued staff amid staff shortages and mass resignations. Eliminate a potential source of claims by eliminating workplace bullying. Make it a priority for 2022 to deal effectively with complaints about workplace bullying.

Tackling workplace bullying and harassment issues should be a top priority for your organisation. Not only is it the right thing for you to do but neglecting it is risky and can be extremely costly.

Workplace bullying has always been an issue, but several recent developments highlighted by an article on HR Review* are likely to magnify employers’ claims risks.

Firstly, HR Review notes the bullying allegations against the Home Secretary and confirms that Home Office figures showed that over 3,000 staff members had felt bullied and harassed, that staff had made over 200 complaints resulting in over 30 disciplinary actions and that Sir Philip Rutnam was estimated to have received over £300,000 in damages. Cases involving high-profile figures and large awards heighten awareness of an issue with the general public and therefore increase employers’ claims risks.

Secondly, HR Review notes a survey of all British workers, which highlighted some interesting disparities with workers’ preparedness to raise issues about bullying and harassment along with age, gender and economic status, as follows:

  • Only 50% of employees felt that their employers took bullying and harassment seriously;
  • Only 56% percent of men and 52% of women said they would know where to go to make a sexual harassment complaint;
  • 15% of young people also said they wouldn’t report sexual abuse, in case it negatively affected their relationships or career;
  • People on lower incomes did not feel empowered to get help after a traumatic situation.

While the disparities are disturbing, the statistics also show that a good proportion of people overall are aware of the issue and are prepared to take action if they feel they have experienced workplace bullying. As employers focus ever more heavily on initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion, one might expect these figures, and therefore the risk of claims, to rise significantly as time goes on.

Thirdly, as HR Review notes, Anti-Bullying Week has just ended, which again serves to heighten public awareness of what workplace bullying is and what action those affected can take about it.

If you have opted for remote or hybrid working patterns post-furlough, don’t be fooled into thinking that bullying and harassment is less of a risk because people are not physically working together. Bullying can of course still take place remotely, for example, over telephone, text message, email and instant messaging apps or via practices like micromanaging, excessively monitoring or isolating remote workers.

There is a risk that an employee who complains about workplace bullying could resign and claim constructive dismissal if the complaint is not handled carefully.

An employee might cite loss of trust and confidence, if you fail to investigate the allegation properly, resolve it with the appropriate degree of sensitivity or if they perceive that they are being treated differently because they complained. If they are part of a group that is protected by the Equality Act 2010 or perceive that they are treated less favourably because they complained, they may also bring additional claims for discrimination, harassment or victimisation, even with less than two years’ service.

Successful claims can lead to a tribunal award of the equivalent of a statutory redundancy payment plus loss of earnings and benefits, which can stretch to the date of any tribunal hearing and possibly beyond plus an award for injury to feelings from £900 to £45,600, depending on the severity of the discrimination or treatment.

Bullying investigations can be stressful, time-consuming and expensive, so get your policies in place to help eliminate the problem at source. Seek help with handling any complaints that you do receive.

If you would like to speak to a member of the team to discuss how we can support your business, please contact us.

* HR Review, “Gender, age and economic divide on those who report office bullying”, pub. 19 November 2021