Workplace harassment and your employees health

Broadly similar—and both unpleasant—workplace harassment and bullying have no place in modern times.

When there’s a negative, aggressive culture, you’ll find that a lot of employees suffer mental and physical ill-health, including:

These issues all contribute to absenteeism, low productivity and high turnover.

 

What counts as harassment in the workplace?

Bullying behaviour is one that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. Spreading rumours, treating someone unfairly, or denying opportunities are all forms of bullying.

Bullying itself technically isn’t illegal. It crosses the line into being considered harassment in the workplace when it relates to a protected characteristic:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage or civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sexual orientation

I’m being harassed. What should I do?

There are broad punishments for workplace harassment, enforced by the Equality Act 2010. If an employer is found to have been in breach of the act, they are liable for damages:

  • a lower band of £900 to £8600 (for less serious cases)
  • a middle band of £8600 to £25,700 (for cases that do not merit an award in the upper band)
  • an upper band of £25,700 to £42,900 (the most serious cases — eg where there has been a lengthy campaign of harassment), with the most exceptional cases capable of exceeding £42,900.

Of course, legal action should be a last resort. In our post on mental health discrimination, we outline possible routes to fixing the problem. Informally resolving the issue, issuing a formal grievance, and using the Acas conciliation service are all options here. Try these, discuss them with people you trust. The option of an employment tribunal is there, but it’s extremely stressful.

There are some complexities—you won’t be covered by the act if you’re a volunteer, for example. Citizen’s Advice provides a great deal of information and helps work out whether you enjoy the legal protection of the act.

 

I’m still unsure if I’m being harassed…

If someone is making you feel uncomfortable—offended, humiliated or intimidated—then this is potentially a very serious issue. A lot of people downplay what defines harassment in the workplace. Old attitudes are still around, intense and aggressive atmospheres are still common. But what’s laughed off as harmless banter by some can be a dreadful experience for others.

You should always stop to think about how you feel. If you’re uncomfortable, speak up.

If you’re an employer, then this advice is doubly important. Your duty of care to your staff means you need to be aware of and on top of, any potential issues. It’s not just the legal and financial repercussions—sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace are incredibly serious, and more than capable of destroying a reputation and bringing a company down.

Should you suspect that people are being made uncomfortable by an individual, talk to them. Make it clear that you will not tolerate that behaviour. Instil strict bullying and harassment policy in the workplace.

 

Make help and advice available to your staff—an EAP is perfect for this. Having someone objective to open up to can make standing up to bullying a much easier process.

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