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Bullying and Harassment – Is your Policy Up To Date?
By Christopher J Sherliker

During recent years, there has been an increase in claims, including personal injury claims, relating to bullying and harassment. This has partly been the result of employees becoming increasingly aware of their human rights, but also many SMEs simply have not had appropriate policies to avoid the problem in the first instance.

Silverman Sherliker HR Consultant David Thompson highlights some of the key responsibilities that employers face.

It is not unusual for an SME to have no bullying and harassment policy in place, which can lead to complications when dealing with both the victim (who may be claiming against you as employer) and the offender (who may be claiming in mitigation that he/she had not been made aware of the boundaries).

Bullying

Bullying is a sustained form of psychological abuse that aims to make victims feel demeaned and inadequate. Bullying is defined as:

Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, or abuse or misuse of power, which has the purpose, or effect of, intimidating, belittling and humiliating the recipient, leading to loss of self-esteem for the victim and ultimately the self-questioning of their worth, both in the workplace and society as a whole.

Harassment

Harassment is defined as:

Unwanted conduct, that intentionally or unintentionally violates a person's dignity, or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive working environment for him/her.

As an employer, you are required to provide protection to maintain the health and safety of all employees. In certain instances, this can be quite obvious, such as providing protective equipment.

There are, however, added complications in relation to bullying and harassment in that:

  • The alleged victim has the right to decide what is acceptable to him/her.
    • A common example is what one person in the workplace may accept as banter may not be acceptable to another.
  • There are obvious forms of bullying, like shouting and undermining others in public.
  • There are also less obvious forms of bullying, like excluding people from groups and withholding relevant information.

In any event, you need to ensure that all of your employees are aware that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated and that:

  • The victims have the comfort of knowing that any complaint will be dealt with appropriately.
  • The bully/harasser is aware of the likely disciplinary sanction for breaching the policy and that this may include summary dismissal.

You do not necessarily need to receive a complaint to raise your awareness of bullying, although it is recognised that this is a difficult skill. The following are just some of the signs that may identify a problem:

  • Low morale
  • Poor performance
  • Absenteeism
  • Intra-team conflict
  • High staff turnover
  • Aggressive behaviour
     

Added: 1st September 2010

Christopher J Sherliker is a partner for Silverman Sherliker LLP who provide legal solutions across a spectrum of requirements.  Find out more about Silverman Sherliker LLP.

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