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Harassment at work: What to do

Estimated read time: 3 mins

Carrie Tennick, February 14, 2020

The workplace throws together different people who may not ordinarily spend time with one another. And though this could lead to great working relationships with people you wouldn’t have met otherwise, it can also lead to conflict.

It’s in situations like this when you might find yourself being bullied or harassed at work.

If you’re suffering from harassment in the workplace, you’ll know just how upsetting it can be. But you have the right to be treated fairly. The law is on your side.

What is harassment?

An EU agreement on the issue defines harassment as “unacceptable behaviour by one or more individuals that can take many different forms, some of which may be more easily identifiable than others”. It’s what happens when someone is repeatedly and deliberately abused, threatened and/or humiliated at work.

Harassment could be carried out by one or more manager, worker, service user or member of the public with the intention or effect of violating a manager’s or worker’s dignity, affecting their health and/or creating a hostile work environment.

It can be physical, psychological or sexual and it can happen in one-off incidents or it can be a pattern of behaviour from the harasser. Harassment ranges in severity, from cases of disrespect to criminal offences, which then require attention from the authorities.

Harassment may include threats of violence, destroying of property, isolating someone, spreading rumours about a person and remarks about a person’s body or persistent sexual comments.

Employers’ duties

Harassment is illegal when it is based on a protected characteristic: age, sex, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.

This means that the law should protect you from harassment on the basis of any of these characteristics. Your employer should therefore ensure that it does all it can to prevent this happening to you or your colleagues.

The Law Society states that “employers have a duty of care to protect staff from unlawful discrimination in whatever form it may take”. However, a CIPD survey of employers and employees found that 24% of workers think bullying and harassment is ignored in their companies.

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “Managers should be important role models, set expectations of behaviour around dignity and respect, and gain the trust of their team.”

What to do

If you’re currently suffering from harassment at work, it might be difficult to know exactly what to do. The important thing is not to deal with it on your own. The first thing to consider is taking the issue to your manager. However, this isn’t always going to help, unfortunately. The CIPD survey found that 40% of those who’ve been bullied or harassed say their manager was responsible.

Meanwhile, 34% of employers said one of the top barriers to effective conflict management is that managers don’t have the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour. In the event your employer doesn’t want to take action on the harassment you’ve been facing, you may want to take legal action.

The CIPD’s Suff said: “The number of managers who are being blamed for harassment and bullying should serve as a wake-up call to employers to put training managers at the heart of efforts to prevent inappropriate workplace behaviour.”

When you’ve been harassed by a colleague, Citizens Advice suggests taking action against your employer rather than the colleague in question. It advises that when you take action against someone, you might have to deal with letters or phone calls from them, and this can be upsetting. But if you take action against your employer, you’ll likely deal with a lawyer or an HR representative.

If you need help with a harassment at work issue, First4Lawyers could help you find the employment solicitor you need to take action. To find out more, just give us a call, request a call back or make an enquiry here.

You don’t have to go through this alone.

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