Bullying and Harassment Part 2 – Advice for employees

Nicola had a great response to her recent article on Harassment in the workplace – if you missed it you can read it here.

It was so well received that she wanted to write a follow up to provide some additional advice on what you should do if you are bullied or harassed at work.

Employers have a duty of care for all their employees to ensure they are in a safe environment. If an employer allows bullying and harassment to take place in the workplace then they are at risk of breaching the implied term of trust and confidence between the employer and employee, and the employee could resign immediately as a result of that breach and make a claim for constructive dismissal. Please note the employee must have two or more year’s service with that employer to be able to make such a claim.

What can you do?

With your employer:

If you feel as though you are being bullied or harassed you should in the first instance consider the following:

  • Has there been a change in management/organisational style in the company – do you just need time to adjust?
  • Are you able to express your concerns to your manager?
  • Are you able to change the way that you work to make the situation any better?

If you have considered the above and you still feel like you are being bullied or harassed, then you should do the following as quickly as possible:

  • Talk to your colleagues – see if anyone else is suffering from the same treatment.
  • Try and never be alone with the bully/harasser
  • Go and speak to a manager/trade union representative or counsellor if your company provides this.
  • Keep a diary of all incidents – this is a record of dates, times, any witnesses, how it made you feel etc. Keep a record of any correspondence such as emails or letters or meeting notes.
  • Keep records and inform your employer of any medical help you seek.
  • Inform the person that is causing your distress of what they are doing as they may be unaware of their actions. If you feel unable to confront the bully, consider having someone else act on your behalf – this could be a colleague or a trade union representative.
  • Remain positive and calm. If the situation does not resolve itself and you feel like you need to make a formal complaint, ensure your follow your employer’s procedures which should tell you how to complain, who to complain to and how the complaint will be dealt with.

Most employers will have a grievance procedure which will deal with your complaint. They should investigate the matter and come up with methods of resolving the situation such as mediation or counselling. They may also take disciplinary action against the person who has been harassing you.

Legal Action:

If you have done everything you can with your employer and their procedures and you are still being bullied or harassed, then you should seek legal advice.

There is potential you can make a claim through the employment tribunal for harassment under the Equality Act 2010, however you must be certain (and in most cases have evidence) that the harassment was as a result of your ‘protected characteristic’. My previous article highlights what a ‘protected characteristic’ is.

If the treatment you receive amounts to a fundamental breach of trust and confidence then you may be able to resign and make a claim for constructive dismissal. However this sort of claim does come with a high level of risk; the breach must be severe and the resignation must be immediately as a result of the breach. While it can be appreciated that most people put up with bullying/harassment in the workplace for drawn out periods of time because they either do not wish to be ‘defeated’ or because they do not wish to leave their job, in the eyes of the law it can be seen that you have accepted the breach by tolerating it for so long.

There is also a possibility that you could make a civil claim through the county court for damages against your employer under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Employers have vicarious liability for their employees under this Act for any harassment an employee receives in the workplace.

Under this act it is an offence for a person to pursue a course of action which they knew or ought to have known would amount to harassment. My previous article highlights some behaviour which could be classed as harassment.

 

If you have followed the above steps with your employer and feel as though you still need to seek legal advice, please do not hesitate to contact Michael Lewin Solicitors on 0844 499 9302.

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