24th April 2023

Dominic Raab’s resignation and how employers can address workplace bullying

Thrings law advice on workplace bullying

Bullying can occur at all levels of an organisation, even at the highest levels of government, as a recent independent investigation into former Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has discovered.

Employers have a duty of care for their staff and every effort should be made to prevent creating an environment that enables or allows bullying, as well as addressing any cases that arise. Given this will still have the potential to happen almost anywhere, what can employers do to mitigate that risk both for their organisation and their employees?

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying has no exact legal definition but can sometimes be used as an umbrella term that also encapsulates discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Any instances of deliberate manipulation, belittlement, intimidation, controlling behaviour or undermining another person, or persons, in an employment setting can be considered examples of workplace bullying.

Reasons can often relate to conflicts in personality or prejudice over differences with another person in the workplace – such as age, gender, race sexual orientation or religion. This can have severely detrimental effects to the victims of bullying, anywhere from simply causing offence to causing lasting psychological or physical harm.

Having the policies in place

Dealing with disputes between employees can be a complicated matter and organisations should have robust policies and processes in place to avoid opportunities for criticism.

If disciplinary actions or even dismissals are the outcomes of investigations into bullying, employers need to know that these have been followed to the letter or it could result in complaints and potential legal action through employment tribunals.

Firstly, it is important that the organisation’s antibullying and harassment policies are comprehensive, with clear definitions of both and state such behaviour will not be tolerated, giving explanations and examples of both. In order to be conducive to a successful workplace culture, these need to be enforced fairly and consistency.

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These policies need to encourage immediate reporting and confidentiality for the complainant, ensuring retaliation does not and cannot occur either within or outside the organisation.

Supporting these policies then are the need for concise disciplinary and grievance procedures. This is not just to protect your organisation and support your HR team, but to signpost the accused and accuser as to the steps being taken to resolve the issue and the potential consequences they face.

Training managers

Regardless of whether they are directly involved or not, managers will play a part in cases of bullying within an organisation and it is important that they are equipped with the tools to be effective, impartial and constructive, not only to avoid causing incidents to arise but to help resolve them in as considerate a way as possible.

But while this is the case, the National Bullying Helpline suggests that as much as 80% of managers know that bullying exists within their workplace, but that as much as 37% say they are not equipped with the proper training to address it.

By providing managers with access to suitable training, they can be taught to provide a safe working environment, promoting positive attitudes and respect between colleagues. Where bullying might arise, it will also empower them to address each incident and its unique circumstances fairly.

Addressing bullying in the workplace

Should an incident of bullying or harassment arise within the organisation, employers should ensure they meet the following criteria to bring the matter to a swift resolution:

  • Address it promptly and thoroughly – If left unchecked, bullying will continue and could even worsen with a lack of action resulting in further suffering for an alleged victim. As such, quick intervention is needed, but do not skip steps or rush into action without sufficient evidence.
  • Keep it independent – Disputes and accusations of this nature will always be between people that know each other. There is also potential for the manager to be familiar with one or more individuals involved, in which case it would be best for them to recuse themselves and allow another senior colleague to take over. It is also encouraged to have a senior mediator involved to further remove bias.
  • Stick to the script – Having spent time and effort developing your policies and processes, follow them to the letter to avoid any potential for criticism, controversy or claims of constructive dismissal. Seek sound legal advice in the event your policies are, for whatever reason, unable to address a particular issue.
  • Keep everything confidential – While any investigation is taking place, the matter should remain private as any allegations, if proven to be untrue, could result in defamatory action if a person’s reputation is harmed in any way.
  • Keep records – This not only allows you to track any future patterns of behaviour but by documenting the investigation and its findings, it protects your organisation in the event of any contention with the outcome of dispute resolution.

Thrings’ Employment Team is experienced in dealing with business matters that affect the workforce, including workplace bullying, and has acted for both employers and employees from start-ups and SMEs all the way to multinational corporations across a wide range of employment matters. To find out how they can help strengthen your polices, and solve your disputes, please get in contact.

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