Staff and managers must be made aware of their responsibilities in ensuring a safe and non-threatening environment, as must equal opportunity officers, so that they can monitor and review progress.
How can we identify harassment and bullying?
Harassment covers any behaviour that, intentionally or not, causes offence or makes someone feel uneasy, intimidated, uncomfortable, excluded or humiliated. It also covers anything that makes people feel their job is threatened.
Bullying can also manifest itself in a variety of different ways. It can be carried out by a manager to an employee, by colleagues to peers or by one group to another individual member. It will often develop gradually, and undermine the ability and confidence of the person on the receiving end.
Persistent bullying can also lead to fear, isolation and poor concentration, as well as symptoms of stress and a high sickness absence level.
Many departments have confidential support networks of trained departmental volunteers to whom employees can speak if they feel that they are being harassed or bullied.
Duty of care
Employers have a ‘duty of care’ for all their employees.
If the mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee is broken – for example, through bullying and harassment at work, where sufficient action is not taken within an organisation to address the incident – then an employee can resign and claim ‘constructive dismissal’ on the grounds of breach of contract.
Health and safety
Breach of contract may also include a failure to protect an employee’s health and safety at work. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has done a lot of work in this area, including helping to define what constitutes stress at work. For more information visit their website.
What you can do
- Ensure recruitment, development, appraisal and promotion processes work and are reviewed regularly.
- Deal with bullying and harassment quickly and effectively (all departments have guidance and support to do this).
- Consult and listen to staff.
- Be aware of the language you use, the way you manage staff, and the working environment you and your team create.
Many departments monitor the prevalence of harassment and bullying through annual staff surveys, discussion forums or with the support of Harassment Contact Officer networks.
Make yourself and your staff aware of how harassment and bullying are tackled in your department/agency.
What you can do
- If you experience or witness unacceptable behaviour, familiarise yourself with your department’s policy for dealing with harassment.
- You will find more information on your own departmental intranet about their policies for dealing with harassment and bullying.
Don’t deal with it alone:
- Find out where you can get support – this might be your manager, HR personnel officer, Welfare Officers, Harassment Officers and/or union representatives.
- Talking through a situation will help clarify what the issue is, and this is the first stage in dealing with it.
The Public and Commercial Services Union website offers useful detail on what can constitute inappropriate behaviour. ACAS also have useful guidance for employers and employees on their website.