Bullying and harassment are extremely common in the workplace, and can range from workplace banter and teasing, to ignoring people or shouting abuse. This can lead to claims for constructive dismissal and discrimination in some instances. With the government’s proposal to increase the period of continuous employment from one year to two years for an unfair dismissal claim, employers are likely to face an increasing number of discrimination cases, some of which are likely to derive from bullying and harassment.
The Equality Act 2010 provides that any treatment that is linked to an employee’s age, race, marital status, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender re-assignment, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity (protected characteristics) is discrimination.
Scope for liability for workplace teasing is extremely wide, especially as remarks about an employee’s family or partner can lead to claims for associative discrimination. Nicknames relating to a person’s age or race can lead to claims for age or race discrimination, and there has already been a case for harassment based on an allegation that an employee was homosexual even when it was known to be untrue.
Teasing and name-calling must not be condoned as ‘horse-play’ and employers must look to protect their businesses against claims being brought.
So what should employers be doing? At the very least, they must have an equality policy in place that reflects the widening discrimination law. The policy must be provided to all staff, and training must be provided – particularly to line managers. However, this alone will be insufficient if an employer chooses to do nothing on receiving a complaint. It is important to act swiftly with an investigation leading to disciplinary action if necessary; failing which, it is almost inevitable that tribunal action will arise.
If you would like further information or guidance on these matters, give me a ring on 0118 9209490 or send me an email.