Bullying can be a difficult issue to handle.  Aside from the impact in individuals, if it is not addressed properly, it can have significant implications on your business including poor morale, loss of reputation, potential resignations and employment claims.  But what can employers do to stop bullying in the work place?

It is not always easy for an employer to determine what has actually happened when an allegation of bullying occurs. Has bullying genuinely occurred, has someone reacted badly to some justified or unjustified) criticism, has there been a difference of opinion or falling out between individuals? Even the most well intentioned employer may balk when faced with the prospect of labelling one party a “bully” and the other a  “victim”.  Given the stigma that can be attached to such labels it is only right that employers face this issue with sensitivity and care.

One thing that will help employers is having a relevant and appropriate anti­ bullying policy in place which all staff are made aware of. An effective anti-bullying policy will lay out what standard of behaviour is expected of staff, for instance, professionalism and courtesy to those around you; while also giving examples of behaviour that is deemed unacceptable and the steps which the business will take to prevent bullying. Examples of unacceptable ‘bullying’ behaviour may include personal insults, public humiliation, spreading malicious rumours and making threats, as well as more subtle forms of bullying such as setting someone up for failure, constant criticism, or blocking promotion and training opportunities.

It is also important for an employer to understand the steps they need to follow if an employee raises a complaint of bullying. Employers may need to offer the individual making the allegation recourse to the organisation’s formal grievance procedure, if it cannot be resolved informally. Employers should have a grievance procedure in place, but to make the most of it, managers need to be aware of the procedure and in what circumstances it should be offered to staff.

If, in the course of investigating a complaint, a manager uncovers information that makes them think another member of staff may have  been involved in bullying, then a formal disciplinary process may need to be instigated  including an  investigation into the matter. Then if necessary, the allegations will need to be put to the alleged bully at a formal disciplinary hearing.  Questions can sometimes arise over whether the alleged bully and/or the victim should be suspended or transferred to another part of the business. Such questions need to be considered very carefully, with all due regard given to both individuals’ express and implied contractual terms.

Employers need to take bullying in the workplace seriously and it is very important that managers are trained and well  informed about the correct procedure to follow. This will ensure that managers feel confident about  what to  do when faced with allegations of bullying. It will be reassuring to staff who feel they have been bullied to know that when and if they raise their concerns, the matter will be dealt with competently, sensitively and fairly. If staff know that bullying is not tolerated and will be taken seriously this may also have a strong deterrent  effect.

For help with implementing anti­-bullying, grievance or disciplinary policies, or advice on following these procedures you should speak with Stephens Scown’s HRExpress team. We specialise in offering HR and employment law solutions to small and medium sized businesses and organisations.

Ellie Hibberd is a senior associate and head of HRExpress. For more information please contact Ellie on 01392 210700 or email parks@ stephens-scown.co.uk