Employers should be aware of the potential legal implications of bullying and harassment in the workplace.
Harassment of an employee is a stand-alone offence, but it can amount to:
- unlawful discrimination on the grounds of race, including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins, sex, including pregnancy and maternity, marital/civil partnership status, gender reassignment, disability, religion/belief or political opinion, sexual orientation, age, trade union membership or non-membership or status as a fixed-term or part-time worker
- a breach of contract, ie a breach of one of the implied terms of any employment contract, such as the duty to provide a safe working environment or to maintain trust and confidence in the employer
- a criminal offence
You could be liable for the actions of your employees unless you have taken reasonable steps to prevent bullying or harassment. Action could still also be taken against you even after a person has left your employment.
Bullying and harassment can also have a serious adverse effect on the success of the business leading to reduced productivity and profits.
This is because bullying and harassment can cause:
- low morale and poor employee relations
- loss of respect for managers
- reduced productivity and profits
- increased absenteeism and turnover of staff
- damage to the image/reputation of the business
- irreparably harmed working relationships
- stress-related complaints, absences and claims
- industrial tribunal or other civil court claims
- expensive litigation
- negative publicity