Employers: be alert to workplace harassment and bullying

Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment at work. Kate Palmer explains why policies and procedures matter.

A Chelsea Ladies footballer recently spoke about being subjected to alleged ‘bullying and harassment’. In the aftermath of the controversy, and amid pressure from anti-racism groups, the FA is facing calls to open a second, independent investigation into how it handled the matter.

All employers should be alert to any bullying or harassment taking place in the workplace. Of course, behaviour that intimidates or offends in any context isn’t acceptable, but how do you, the employer, develop and implement a policy that makes the position and the repercussions crystal clear?

Employees have the right to feel safe and respected in their workplace, so you need to send a confident message that any type of harassment will be dealt with seriously. To do this, an effective anti-bullying policy must be created and implemented.

Here are the most important things to do when executing the policy:

  • Create a non-exhaustive list of examples of unacceptable behaviour.
  • Create a procedure for dealing with complaints of a bullying nature, and clearly document the repercussions that will follow.
  • Distribute the policy to all employees – make this part of an induction process, so that new staff will know what is expected from them from the outset.
  • Take any complaint of bullying seriously, whether made by the target of the behaviour, or a third party with concerns about a team member.
  • Investigate all complaints promptly.
  • Remain neutral while the investigation takes place, and be sympathetic to both parties.

If you conclude that bullying has occurred, you then will need to assess the circumstances and decide on the appropriate disciplinary action, which could range from a verbal or written warning to dismissal, in very severe cases.

Taking a hard line when it comes to bullying, and treating all complaints consistently, will help to instil confidence and increase morale, creating more secure and enjoyable workplace for everyone.

It’s also worth training managers in the identification of bullying and harassment, so that problems can be dealt with quickly, in line with the effective policy that has been developed.

About the author

Kate Palmer is head of advisory and equality at Peninsula.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has produced a booklet for employers: Bullying and harassment at work [pdf], including advice on setting up a policy as well as how to recognise, deal with and prevent bullying and harassment.