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How to tackle harassment allegations in the workplace

Posted On: 07/02/2018

Harassment cases have, sadly, hit the headlines far too many times in recent months, mostly involving high-flying celebrities and politicians. But harassment isn’t just something that happens in high-profile industries, like politics and the media. In workplaces up and down the country, there are victims and perpetrators of harassment in its many forms.

Times have certainly changed for the better though. No longer do victims feel they should keep quiet for fear of recrimination or the loss of their jobs. In fact, it is the bravery shown by the victims in some of the more high-profile cases which has given other victims of workplace harassment the courage to speak up.

What is harassment?

Harassment is unwanted or unwelcome behaviour that is meant to or has the effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an offensive, hostile, degrading, intimidating or humiliating environment. It could take place online or in person and could be verbal, physical or sexual in nature. According to ACAS, examples include, spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone, exclusion or victimisation, unfair treatment, or deliberately undermining a competent worker by constant criticism.

Bullying and harassment can create toxic working environments and is a difficult thing for victims to talk about so employers must have mechanisms in place to support their staff and make it easy for them to talk and to report any abuse, whether it’s by a colleague or manager.

Changing workplace cultures

Businesses have an absolute duty of care to protect and respect their staff. Not only that, but employees are protected by law from harassment at work. Under the Equality Act 2010, any discriminatory conduct related to age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation is unlawful. 

Not all harassment is discriminatory though and an employee doesn’t have to be the direct victim to be affected by workplace harassment.

How to identify harassment

Sometimes, workplace practices are so ingrained that individuals don’t necessarily realise or identify the behaviour as bullying or harassment.

So, how can you tell if an employee is experiencing harassment at work?

By building a close working relationship with the team and encouraging an open dialogue as well as opportunities to speak one to one. This will help employees to feel more at ease and they will be more likely to share their problems or concerns. However, with more serious or sexual harassment, it may be harder for people to open up.

Keeping an ear to the ground and taking an interest in workplace gossip will help to identify those who may be more vulnerable or susceptible to bullying. Then, it’s a good idea for managers and employers to take note of things such as repeated periods of sickness or an individual’s withdrawal from certain situations.

Workplace support

It is within any business’s interests to gain the trust of their employees and to treat them with respect, fairness, honesty and equality.

The job of a reliable HR department or adviser is to support the needs of a business’s employees. They are there to ensure that employee relations and employee welfare are positive and effective.

The HR representative should take any allegations of harassment extremely seriously. They will launch an investigation and manage the whole process, making sure that the employee is protected and that the business takes any steps necessary to manage the situation fairly and lawfully.


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