Harassment in the Workplace : Navigating the Legal Landscape

Harassment is not a new term. There are bullies in school, too. Unfortunately, the trend continues when we are adults. Intimidation in the workplace, in various forms, is used by people to climb up the corporate ladder more often. And then there are tough bosses and mean ones.  When you are subjected to repeated emotional and physical abuse, it is called bullying or harassment. You are victimised, belittled and undermined, no matter how hard you work. In the corporate world, bullies can be manipulative and might result in anti-social behaviour, leading to stress. 

Harassment and bullying – what are they?

While bullying by itself is not defined under UK Law, harassment is outlined in the Equality Act 2010, where it is defined as unwanted conduct related to a relevant 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 person. 


Harassment and bullying are at the extreme ends of incivility – these could be moderately deviant acts such as impolite behaviours (verbal or nonverbal), which are directed at an individual, group or team. Ultimately, every person has a right to dignified treatment, and any incivility should be taken seriously by businesses. The human resources department must create a welcoming environment with zero tolerance for harassment. Additionally, people should be able to voice their concerns without ridicule or backlash. 


However, harassment is still a severe workplace concern. Employers must implement pertinent policies and guidelines, embedding workplace conduct which fosters respect and dignity. Work-related parties and outings must also contain well-outlined rules by employers nurturing good behaviour. 


Employers should also pay attention to cyberbullying, a technique which uses technology to threaten and embarrass a colleague. These can be rude and aggressive in the form of tweets, messages, posts, or anything offensive being published on digital media and is meant to hurt an individual. Research indicates that at least one-tenth of the employees have experienced cyberbullying in the workplace, which is more common than inappropriate behaviour at a social event.


Besides employers, it is the responsibility of every employee to foster an inclusive and hospitable environment for their colleagues and coworkers. Unfitting demeanour is to be confronted, and necessary action must be taken against the group or individual responsible for the activity, thus contributing to ensuring that the organisation’s policies are implemented. 


Advice, training and counselling

While developing a climate of respect is extremely important, a well-designed policy must also be implemented to tackle harassment. Employees must be given examples of what institutes intimidating behaviour. This could include cyberbullying and third-party harassment as well. They should be trained to place a formal or informal complaint. All resolutions must be speedy and in confidence without any victimisation. Clarify accountability and emphasise the need for appropriate behaviour in the workplace.

When the HR department notices unacceptable behaviour, they should speak and counsel the individual while also helping those affected by it. 


Speak to B2B Connections if you want to know more about HR and Employment laws in the workplace.