Harassment and bullying behaviour in the workplace is unpleasant and offensive. It can affect an individual’s professional performance and psychological welfare, and can be so destructive that the effects continue after work, devastating personal lives as well as careers. Harassment and bullying can result in low morale, increased sickness absence or resignations.
If a complaint is made to an Employment Tribunal, or civil proceedings taken to court, an organisation may also suffer expensive litigation, adverse publicity and a loss of customers. It is in everyone’s best interests to have a workplace free of harassment and bullying.
It can often be difficult for a leader within an organisation to know exactly what to do when allegations arise. The following is list of tips to help you.
Time is critical in harassment cases and all instances should be addressed as soon as the complainant has raised the issue. It is likely that the alleged bullying or harassment has gone on for some time and has reached a point where the complainant feels they have run out of options. There is no benefit in hoping that the situation will ‘blow over’.
Take the Complaint Seriously
Employees are unlikely to complain unless they feel they have no other options. A response from you that is deemed unreasonable or dismissive will exacerbate the situation and likely cause issues further down the line.
Be Objective and Independent
Irrespective of the feelings you have for those involved in the case, it is important that you remain objective and independent of the situation at all times. Although sometimes difficult, you must ensure that your own feelings and opinions do not enter into the equation. All parties involved will be looking for support from you and it is imperative that you remain professional throughout the process. If you are seen to imply favouritism, the consequences could be damaging.
Attempt to Resolve Informally
Informal resolution of harassment and bullying cases can be the least damaging for all involved. Often the person that carries out the harassment or bullying is unaware of the affect their behaviour is having on the individual concerned. Wherever possible it is best to rectify these matters without damaging the reputation of all involved. Sometimes the complainant will be happy to approach the person/s themselves or they may need support from others i.e. manager, colleague, HR.
As a general principle, confidentiality should be agreed and maintained. In some instances it will be necessary to involve others in the discussions in order to progress a complaint. However, the decision should be made by the complainant as to whether to involve anyone else.
In cases of this nature hearsay and gossip tend to arise. It is important that you remain impartial and act as the soul of discretion. Any other type of behaviour can result in legal implications for you.
Follow Organisation Policies and Guidelines
Most organisations will have guidelines and policies for disciplinary, grievance, bullying or harassment cases. They will have been drafted carefully and with the organisation and its employee’s specific interests in mind, so it is crucial that you follow them. Don’t be reluctant to seek help if you are unsure of the procedures or need advice.