Bullying v Harassment

Posted in : HR Updates on 22 March 2024
Charlotte Eakin
Think People
Issues covered: Bullying and Harassment

What are the Similarities between Bullying and Harassment?

Bullying and harassment frequently intersect in employment matters due to their shared characteristics, such as the presence of abusive behaviour and a tendency to involve an abuse of power.  Acquiring the necessary skills to effectively address these issues within the workplace is crucial for managers and staff members as this will enable them to navigate such situations should they arise.  By developing a comprehensive understanding of these dynamics, organisations can proactively create a safe and respectful work environment while effectively addressing any instances of bullying or harassment.

Similarities can include:

  1. Workplace bullying & harassment are serious issues that range from ignorance towards another employee, intimidation right through to physical violence. Examples can include unwanted physical contact, personal insults, remarks on a person’s age/race/ offensive language.
  2. Negative impact on individuals: Both bullying and harassment can have detrimental effects on the individuals targeted. They can cause emotional distress, anxiety, decreased job satisfaction and even physical health issues. In both cases, the well-being and productivity of the affected individuals may be compromised.
  3. Breach of policies and laws: Bullying and harassment in the workplace are typically in violation of company policies and often legal regulations.
  4. Need for intervention: Both bullying and harassment require intervention from HR departments or management.  Prompt action is necessary to address the issue, investigate the claims, and take appropriate measures to prevent further incidents. This may involve disciplinary actions, training programs or implementing policies to prevent future occurrences.
  5. Impact on organisational culture: Both bullying and harassment can negatively impact the overall organisational culture. They create an atmosphere of fear, mistrust, and low morale amongst employees. Addressing and preventing these behaviours is crucial for fostering a positive and inclusive work environment.

While bullying and harassment have distinct differences, recognising their similarities helps HR professionals understand the importance of addressing both issues effectively to maintain a healthy workplace environment.

What are the differences between Bullying and Harassment?

Whilst both are forms of unacceptable behaviour in the workplace, they do have distinct differences.

Under the Equality Act 2010 Harassment is defined as ‘Unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’.

In comparison, there is no legal definition of workplace bullying. However, complaints or claims can be made under laws covering discrimination, harassment, and constructive dismissal. The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) states that Bullying, ‘it too is offensive, oppressive or intimidatory behaviour, but is not connected to a protected equality ground. It is not deemed to be a form of unlawful discrimination under the anti-discrimination laws, although there may be legal remedies for it under other areas of employment law.’

Bullying typically involves repeated, intentional, and harmful actions or behaviours that are directed towards an individual or a group. It often creates a hostile work environment and can involve verbal abuse, humiliation, or intimidation.

On the other hand, harassment refers to any unwanted conduct based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion, or disability, among others. It can take various forms, including verbal, physical, or written actions that violate an individual's dignity and create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.

How do organisations manage this?

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill, which is set to come into effect in October 2024, will put further duty and responsibilities on the employer to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment of its employees in the workplace. It was announced that under this new law, employers will have to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from happening in the workplace, and the employment tribunal will increase the compensation owed to the claimant by up to 25% if the employer is found to have failed to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment.

Whilst this new Act will only extend to England, Scotland and Wales, organisations in NI should pay close attention to the legislative changes being implemented. They should proactively tackle any workplace bullying or harassment through robust training and setting positive examples of a zero-tolerance attitude towards any behaviour which demonstrates that of bullying or harassment.

1)     Have robust policies in place: Policies on Equality, Dignity at Work, Bullying and Harassment and disciplinary and grievance should be easily accessible and up to date. Employees should be able to find these and refer back to them if required. The policies should clearly set out examples of unwanted behaviour, implications on employees who do not adhere to the policies, and clearly outline how to make a formal complaint should anyone be subjected to any kind of bullying or harassment. The policies should set out clear expectations of staff attending any workplace events, and also third parties involved with the organisation.

This shouldn’t be a tick-box exercise but seen as a first-step approach to a zero-tolerance policy towards any unwanted behaviour.

2)     Training and Awareness: Ensuring that managers are aware of the workplace policies on Bullying and Harassment is essential. Managers should embody the values that the organisation holds and will be influential when implementing any zero-tolerance workplace bullying or harassment policies. Managers should also ensure that their staff are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities under the policy, and everyone should be aware on how to make a complaint. Training is essential so that all staff are aware they are responsible for their own behaviour, and encouraging staff to report any behaviour that goes against the policies set in place. Organisations can also do this by establishing multiple channels for employees to report incidents confidentially, such as a dedicated email address or an anonymous reporting system. Assure employees that their concerns will be taken seriously and that there will be no retaliation for reporting.

3)     Zero-Tolerance Strategy: By ensuring that the organisation investigates any complaints of bullying & Harassment in a timely, yet serious matter. Line managers play an important role here in addressing any form of inappropriate behaviour the minute they are informed.

4)     Support and Positive Culture: Offering counselling to staff who have been subjected to any forms of bullying & harassment. Promote a positive and inclusive work culture by encouraging respectful behaviour, teamwork, and open communication. Recognise and reward employees who contribute to a respectful and supportive environment.

5)     Mediation: If the employee does not wish to progress to a formal complaint, it may be suitable to resolve the issue through mediation. This should only be done, however, where the accusations of bullying and harassment are not serious. 


Legal Island Training Resources for Your Staff

Workplace Bullying | eLearning Course

Are you responsible for overseeing the implementation of training for all employees on the new Bullying Code of Practice in your organisation?
Legal Island has created a 45-minute eLearning course for all employees. The provision of this training for your staff will enable your organisation to act in compliance with the Code and help to raise awareness of bullying and harassment in the workplace and explain what to do if employees are concerned.

Click here to view our course on workplace bullying.

This article is correct at 22/03/2024

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Charlotte Eakin
Think People

The main content of this article was provided by Charlotte Eakin. Contact telephone number is 028 9031 0450 or email charlotte.eakin@aab.uk

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