Turning a blind eye to workplace bullying – what employers can learn from the PM’s handling of Priti Patel

Bully and Harassment

“Harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behaviour wherever it takes place is not consistent with the Ministerial Code and not to be tolerated”.

The comment follows a lengthy eight-month wait for the findings of a Cabinet Office investigation into claims of workplace bullying against the home secretary, Priti Patel. The nation waited for Boris Johnson to take action, however, we saw the prime minister put his neck on the line in support of Ms Patel, expressing full confidence.

Expectedly, it was not long before criticism started to roll in. The overwhelming opinion was that the prime minister’s views send the wrong message to other senior leaders, who may find themselves in similar scenarios.

Consequently, it is important to consider what the dangers are of sweeping bullying under the rug, and what lessons we can learn as reasonable employers.

Ignoring evidence of bullying is a dangerous decision that undermines any purpose of an investigation. Employers should have a clear Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy contained within their Employee or Staff Handbook to set out how they will support employees and address allegations of bullying and harassment.

Bullying is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour that can make a person feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened. In the workplace, bullying can take the form of physical, verbal, and non-verbal conduct and may include

  • physical or psychological threats;
  • overbearing and intimidating levels of supervision;
  • inappropriate derogatory remarks about someone’s performance.

Bullying can occur in any workforce, whether it is a small family-run business, a construction site or a large corporation. Employers must acknowledge that they have a duty to protect not only their employees, but anyone who encounters the business – including but not limited to contractors, subcontractors, workers, volunteers, clients, customers and suppliers.

It is important that employers deal with any complaints fairly, compassionately and are consistent in their approach. Often complaints will be of a sensitive nature and require careful handling. Employers should decide whether the complaint can be dealt with informally or whether more serious action is required. Once an employer becomes aware of an issue, they should investigate and speak to all those involved. It may be necessary to consider suspending an employee to ensure that an unhindered investigation can take place. Any disciplinary process which follows should be in line with the company Disciplinary Procedure, which should also be contained within the Employee or Staff Handbook.

In terms of defending a case, it is important to be able to evidence that you have taken all steps to ensure that you have trained your staff on Equality and Diversity. Even if you are unaware of the existence of any bullying or harassment in the workplace you may still be vicariously liable for the actions of an employee.

Vicarious liability refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person. In a workplace context, an employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment. Thorough training records can go a long way to evidence that you should not be vicariously liable.

An organisation’s culture is built on shared beliefs and values. These beliefs and values are established by its employer, and it is not just what you do but what you do not do that speaks volumes about what those values are. The way you respond to issues such as bullying defines your standards and expectations and sets the tone for what is and is not acceptable behaviour. By failing to take a firm stance against such conduct, you risk sending a dangerous message to your workforce that the organisation won’t treat complaints seriously, which may create mistrust and make victims reluctant to speak out in future. This is what makes bullying a toxic and dangerous issue.

How can we help you?

If you are an employer, looking to implement clear policies on Anti-Bullying and Harassment, Disciplinary Policy or Grievance Policy and even a Staff or Employee Handbook, then Bhayani HR & Employment Law can provide you with everything you need to ensure your business is compliant and proactively addressing issues relating to bullying and harassment. For more advice contact us today by calling 0333 888 0290 or email hello@bhayanirecruitment.co.uk

For HR, employment law and Health & Safety services for you or your business visit www.bhayanilaw.co.uk

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