This week marks ‘Anti-bullying Week' across the UK.
At some point, most employers will have received employee grievances citing allegations of ‘bullying’, ‘harassment’ or ‘victimisation’. Some of these phrases have specific legal definitions which often are not understood by employees.
It is therefore essential that your Anti-Bullying and Harassment policies clearly set out accurate definitions of what your organisation recognises as bullying behaviour - which should be distinct from discrimination, harassment and victimisation definitions.
Many Anti-Bullying and Harassment and Diversity and Inclusion policies also confirm an employer’s ‘zero-tolerance approach’ to bullying behaviour in the workplace. However, a mere sentence in a policy will be insufficient to evidence to a tribunal that your organisation actively discourages such behaviour.
With the continuing advancement of the HR function across all industry sectors, Employment Judges will expect policies to be implemented through adequate staff training on those policies, to demonstrate an understanding of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the workplace – and importantly, to reduce an employer's vicarious liability in respect of inappropriate behaviour by members of staff.
Banter -vs- Bullying
Too often we hear alleged perpetrators of bullying or discriminatory treatment making the argument that they did not intend for their words or actions to cause offence; the ‘it-was-just-a-bit-of-banter’ defence is not a legal defence and will be given short shrift in the course of litigation. It is critical to remember that it is the impact of the conduct – not the intention behind it, which the Courts focus on. Moreover, it is not sufficient to have a line in a policy which states this; the Courts will expect Employers to actively implement the policy by regular training, updates and visible application.
This further highlights the need to ensure staff understand what your organisation treats as unacceptable behaviour and the consequences of a failure to comply with those behavioural standards. This is especially the case as we approach the Christmas party season when conduct, behaviour and the 'lived' culture of the Employer is all too frequently under the microscope.
If you would like us to assist with reviewing your policies and procedures, or for further information on our staff training packages, please contact Jill Gracey, or another member of the ALG Employment team.