Anti-Bullying Week – A Guide for Employers

This week is Anti-Bullying Week, which is a week where businesses, schools and members of the public come together to take a collective stand against bullying.

This article considers what bullying and harassment mean in a legal context and specifies some measures that employers can put in place to prevent and address bullying in the workplace.

What do bullying and harassment mean in a legal context?

Bullying is not legally defined, but can be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behavior, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, or injure the recipient.

Harassment on the other hand, is defined by the Equality Act 2010 as unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The definition of harassment applies to the following protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Preventing harassment and bullying

Bullying and harassment in the workplace can be problematic for many reasons. Most importantly, it can be extremely distressing for the victim. It can also have a more widespread effect on the attitude and morale of the workforce if it is felt that this type of behavior is tolerated or overlooked.

There can also be significant financial implications for an employer because a victim of bullying or harassment may be able to bring a claim for compensation in the employment tribunal.

There are various steps that employers can take to prevent and address bullying and harassment in the workplace including:

  • Putting in place an Anti-Harassment and Bullying Policy

Employers should put in place an anti-harassment and bullying policy to make it clear that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated and will be treated as a disciplinary offence. The policy should also outline reporting procedures so that victims can easily access information about how to report incidents of bullying and harassment.

  • Maintaining appropriate procedures for dealing with employee complaints

Employers should ensure that they have up-to-date disciplinary and grievance procedures that operate effectively alongside their anti-harassment and bullying policy. Every complaint should be taken seriously and dealt with fairly, confidentially and sensitively. When investigating a complaint, employers should undertake an objective and independent investigation into the behavior complained of and take any disciplinary action that may be required, in accordance with the disciplinary policy.

  • Setting standards of behavior

It is common for employers to issue a statement to all staff addressing standards of behavior so that all staff know what is expected of them. Employees should be encouraged to report incidents of bullying and/or harassment in accordance with internal procedures and to set a good example with their own behavior. Training courses can also be provided to address these issues with staff.

If you would like more information about the issues raised in this article, please contact the employment team on 029 2034 5511 or at