Whether we want to face it or not bullying in the workplace happens, day in, day out, according to new statistics showing that UK employment tribunal claims related to bullying have soared by 44% over the last 12 months, rising from 581 to 835 between March 2021 and March 2022, these figures are alarming and shocking.
In our latest news, we do not just take a quick look at what has been cited in just some of these cases, we also look at what steps you can take to make the improvements in your workplace right now…
In some of the recent cases, working from home has been cited in bullying claims in UK employment tribunals, with Employees having to grapple with new tech such as the use of video calling leading to remarks of a bullying nature and the gossip on messaging apps causing offence too.
Just what is ‘Banter’
Some may say some of what they say and hear in the workplace is ‘banter’, so what is this and can it be construed as offensive to others?
The term ‘banter’ is often used by Employers and to an extent Employees to deny that things said amount to acts of bullying, discrimination, and harassment.
The defence is that banter is jovial, harmless, consensual, and fun.
It is worth noting that Employment Tribunals uphold claims in favour of Employees where ‘banter’ is considered to have overstepped the line.
So, just how should you act in a reasonable manner?
The difficulty for many businesses is that what one Employee might consider being light-hearted fun could be interpreted by another as bullying, discrimination, or harassment, it is even more so if the comments made relate to one of the protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010, these are:
- Gender Reassignment
- Pregnancy and Maternity
- Religion or belief
- Sex and Sexual orientation
- Marriage and Civil Partnership
As an Employer, you need to ensure that your Employees are aware of the standards expected of them.
It is important you do, as you are, in most cases, liable for claims brought by your Employees making complaints about fellow Employees’ behaviour, undoubtedly, ‘banter’ and any type of unprofessional working environment could lead to financial liability for you as an Employer where you have not considered and taken adequate steps to prevent the behaviour in the first place.
As a starting point as an Employer, you must have adequate, up to date and well-written policies that cover elements such as:
- Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion
- What harassment and bullying is, how to detect, report it and take the appropriate action
- How to respect others in the workplace
Your policy documentation should be drafted for your own individual workplace and set the framework for your whole team, once in place, it is essential to ensure that the whole team is not just aware, they understand their responsibilities, as well as what the ramifications are if they breach them.
The most productive method of ensuring the whole team is aware of your expectations and policies is the provision of quality training, the most productive method is face-face, seminars can be useful, and as a last resort online, you will find with this method the training is limited and the outcome poor.
You may want to consider hiring an outsourced provider to provide the training such as HR consultants, we deliver training on a regular basis (only face-face) in-house or at our offices.
It is true that whilst training will not completely negate, the risk and the financial implications of being pursued in the employment tribunal by a disgruntled Employee, you will find that the evidence of training will mitigate issues related to vicarious liability.
It will also assist you as an Employer should you need to discipline, or even dismiss an Employee who simply pleads ignorance.
What is considered to be ‘Banter’?
We have highlighted just a couple of recent cases for you, in these examples, you will note that the ‘banter’ was said to constitute discrimination or harassment, these include:
- An Employee being told he was gay because he didn’t like football;
- An Employee’s Irish accent being ridiculed; and
- A woman being exposed to a Line Manager who repeatedly referred to women as ‘birds’.
Am I legally obliged to comply?
As an Employer you do have a legal duty to ensure you take the appropriate action to prevent:
- Unlawful discrimination on the grounds of bullying and harassment, in particular considering if they relate to one of the protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010, and or the membership of a trade union or non-membership and status as a fixed term, and or part-time Employee.
- A breach of Contract covers any such breach of one or more of the implied terms of any employment with you.
- A criminal offence.
- As an Employer, you could and would be liable unless you have taken reasonable steps to prevent any such bullying and harassment.
This is applicable post-termination of employment and as such action could be brought against you as an Employer in this instance.
Could a Tribunal be costly to me as an Employer?
There is no doubt that the financial impact for you as an Employer can be crippling, we would firstly like to mention the reputational damage that a tribunal can impose on you and your business, not to mention the anxiety and stress it can cause you as an Employer.
The statutory cap for ordinary unfair dismissal claims currently stands at £93,878 (the max award an employment tribunal can make against you as an Employer), however, claims relating to harassment and discrimination are uncapped. It may also be a claim is filed for injury to feelings, bearing this in mind the award could be significantly more than the unfair dismissal cap.
How can we help?
Remember, to act reasonably, and fairly, to have policies and procedures that are communicated and understood in your business, to also ensure you are treating your Employee/s fairly and reasonably, to keep your Managers up to date, and ensure you have a zero tolerance to bullying and harassment.
HR and You Ltd handbooks and policies are fully in line with current legislation in regard to Discrimination – and should you find yourself requiring help, support, and or assistance with policy writing, we have every policy you could ever need, these cover respect in the workplace, we would be more than happy to help advise and guide you towards the ideal solution for you, your Employee, and your Business.
We are here to provide full advice, support, and guidance. We can advise in any HR or Employment Law matter: you can contact a member of our team on 0333 006 9489 or [email protected]
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