Bullying in the Workplace – The Importance of Training

Posted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 28 September 2021
Legal Island
Legal Island
Issues covered: Bullying in the workplace, Discrimination, Harassment, Equality, Training

While there is no generic legal definition of bullying in the workplace many would agree that it is behaviour that is unwanted and similarly to behaviour that is viewed as harassment it can have “the purpose or effect of violating that person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person”. It is therefore behaviour which employers have a responsibility to try and discourage occurring in the workplace and also provide mechanisms for it to be dealt with, should it arise.  This includes, for example, having a clear policy in place so that employees are aware of what is not appropriate behaviour and how they can complain should it occur.  It is also essential to provide training for employees on the implications and application of the policy so that good practice is promoted and maintained. 

Having such a policy in place will help an employer defend any subsequent legal action that could arise resulting from complaints of bullying. In our regular Essential Elements of the Employee Handbook feature, Leeanne Armstrong, Director of TLT NI provides guidance on the construction of a bullying and harassment policy in this article ‘Preventing Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace’ and also outlines the importance of the policy and training in establishing a reasonable steps defence in any litigation. Many organisations have a ‘Dignity at Work’ Policy which covers both bullying and harassment and many of these policies are available in the public domain, such as the Ulster University

As many of us are working remotely these days, this can add a complication to investigating complaints and this article from Mairéad Regan, Clarendon Executive, considers what remote bullying and harassment might look like and what steps employers can take to minimise the risk of bullying and harassment: https://www.legal-island.com/articles/uk/features/hr/2020/apr/remote-working-and-bullying-and-harassment/.

The importance of appropriate training has been highlighted in recent case law, e.g. in Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen [2021] the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the equality and diversity training that the employer had undertaken had become stale and that refresher training should have occurred. While the court did not indicate how often refresher training should take place, it was noted that the training that had occurred (in this case) took place approximately one year and eight months before the Claimant commenced employment and was therefore stale. 

Joint guidance from the Labour Relations Agency and the Equality Commission for NI which is available here, emphasises the importance of providing training for all staff in understanding bullying and harassment and also providing specific training for line managers and those involved in dealing with complaints. Training for all staff will include examples of what is viewed as bullying behaviour and what is not bullying and also distinguishing between bullying and harassment. It is also important that training addresses what employees should do if they are concerned about bullying at work. 

Legal Island Training Resource

Helpfully, the newly developed e-learning training course from Legal Island, Workplace Bullying in Northern Ireland, which has been specifically developed for all employees in Northern Ireland, will enable organisations to help to raise awareness of bullying in the workplace and explain what to do if employees are concerned about bullying. This 45-minute course is a cost-effective training solution and can be completed at a time to suit an individual employee’s personal circumstances and working hours. You can find out more about this course by clicking here, or to get a FREE demo on behalf of your organisation, click here.

This article is correct at 28/09/2021

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.

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