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Bullying and Harassment

Q

Should we have a separate bullying and harassment procedure in our organisation?

A

It is generally recommended that organisations should have a procedure for dealing with incidences of bullying and harassment which is separate from the Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.  The policy and procedure adopted should be relevant and sufficient for the organisation. It should recognise that there is a difference between harassment and bullying, in that harassment is based on a persons’ protected social identity whereas bullying is not.  A model harassment procedure is available from the guidance booklet – Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace

However, many organisations compile a “Dignity at Work” policy which provides for both bullying and harassment whereupon the behaviour of the offending individual will determine under which category it falls.

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Head Office: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 9639.

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Q

What is the difference between bullying and harassment?

A

Bullying and harassment should be viewed as two distinct concepts. Behaviour which constitutes harassment is often viewed as discriminatory in nature because it is related to a social identity basis, for example, sexual harassment. However, harassment based on a protected social identity is now a stand alone offence under the anti-discrimination laws.  Behaviour which constitutes bullying may often be similar in nature but is not generally related to a social identity basis, for example, a boss abuses their authority with their subordinates.   A definition which could encompass both harassment and bullying is:

‘Where one person or persons engage in unwanted conduct in relation to another person which has the purpose or effect of violating that person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.  The conduct shall be regarded as having this effect, only if, having regard to all the circumstances and in particular the alleged victim’s perception, it should be reasonably considered as having that effect.’

However, it is important to remember that while the behaviour of the alleged harasser/bully may appear similar the underlying motives may vary, as well as the recipient’s perceptions. These are some of the reasons why cases of alleged bullying or harassment can be very difficult to manage.

Further information on bullying and harassment is available in the Publication Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Head Office: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 9639.

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Q

A fellow employee has recently accused me of harassing them and my employer has moved me to another department on the grounds that he needs to investigate the complaint.  I feel very hurt by this allegation and the way I am being treated and have consequently been off sick.  Can you tell me what my rights are?

A

When an individual makes a complaint of harassment an employer must take steps to investigate the matter. If appropriate ensure that while the matter is under investigation the employee making the complaint (the complainant) is not subjected to any further alleged harassment.  Often, this results in one party being temporarily moved to a different part of the organisation. It is not generally viewed as good practice to move the complainant and so it is usually the alleged harasser that is moved.   The necessity to move one party to a complaint will depend upon the severity of the allegations that have been made. An employer must ensure that the decision to do so is reasonable and proportionate given the circumstances and that there is provision for such action in the policy.

While this is clearly a very difficult time for you, it is necessary for your employer to take action and investigate the complaint.  A good procedure will ensure that you will have an opportunity to respond fully to the allegations of harassment before any decision is taken,.This  allows you to put your side of the story.  The whole matter should be handled with confidentiality so that no one, other than the parties involved, are aware that a complaint has been made and the subsequent reason for your temporary move.  In most cases the facts should speak for themselves and this may result in a complaint being upheld even though the behaviour may have been unwitting or unintentional. Alternatively the complainant may have been unduly sensitive and the investigation should bear this out. This can be a complex area and where there are false allegations or counter-grievances the net result will be that the workplace will not be a very nice place to be and it may be symptomatic of a greater underlying problem. The services of the Labour Relations Agency may be required. Further information regarding our mediation services can be found at http://www.lra.org.uk/index/resolving-disputes/mediation-2.htm

Further information on bullying and harassment is available in the Publication -Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Head Office: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 9639.

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Q

An employee has recently raised a grievance saying that another employee has harassed her.  We have never had this sort of thing before and are not quite sure how to deal with it. Can you advise us?

A

Complaints of harassment should be taken seriously and handled in a confidential and sensitive manner.  It is recommended that you talk to the employee who has made the complaint (complainant) as quickly as possible to reassure them that you have received their complaint and will act upon it.  Try to also establish initially whether the matter can be dealt with informally in the first instance via dialogue and low key resolutions at the source of the perceived problem.

If the matter cannot be dealt with informally or it is of such a serious nature that it would be inappropriate to deal with informally then you should adopt a formal approach to the issue.  The steps detailed below provide general guidance on handling such complaints and further information is available in the Publication - Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace

  • Meet with the complainant – to gather further information on their complaint
  • Meet with the alleged harasser – to outline the complaint and give them an opportunity to respond
  • Investigate the complaint – to help establish the facts
  • Consideration of information – to determine whether the complainant’s case can be supported and whether disciplinary action is warranted or not
  • Communicate the decision to the complainant and the alleged harasser
  • Take appropriate follow up action, for example, disciplinary action against the alleged harasser if it is warranted.

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Head Office: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 9639.

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Q

An employee has complained that a work colleague sexually harassed her at a work social outing.  I always thought that what happened outside work was out of our control, but the employee is insisting that we take action about this.  What should we do?

A

Social outings that are carried out with work colleagues, whether officially organised by the employer or not, have generally been viewed as an “extension” of the workplace and as such normal rules of conduct and disciplinary rules will apply.  An employer can be held to be vicariously liable (as if they had committed the act themselves) for the actions of an employee if they were carried out in the “course of employment”. What constitutes in the course of employment can be very broad in terms of being closely connected with work. Therefore an act of alleged sexual harassment that occurs at a social outing with work colleagues can be treated as if it happened within the workplace taking into consideration issues such as: extent of employers knowledge of event, frequency of such events and so on.  Employers should inform employees in anticipation of a sanctioned social outing that normal rules of conduct apply and therefore any inappropriate behaviour will be dealt with as a disciplinary matter.  This will help provide a defence for an employer, as a reasonably practicable measure along with things such as recent refresher training, in the event of any legal action taken by an employee.

Further information on handing complaints of harassment is available in the Publication - Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace

If our answer or publications do not provide you with enough information please contact the Agency's Head Office: 028 9032 1442 - or our Regional Office: 028 7126 9639.

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