Harassment and bullying in the workplace 

Harassment and bullying in the workplace - Centric HR

Harassment and bullying remain significant workplace issues despite increasing awareness of the problem. Typical harassment and bullying behaviours range from unwelcome remarks and persistent unwarranted criticism to unwanted physical contact and shouting. Recipients of these inappropriate behaviours are more likely to experience anxiety, stress and a loss of confidence.

Recently in the news, Tesla, the electric vehicle company, has been ordered to pay out close to $137 million (£101 million) to a former employee after supervisors failed to prevent racial abuse. Since then Tesla has claimed to have made vast improvements on their policies but a preventive measure should of been already in place to:

  1. to also prevent the huge financial cost ​to the company.
  2. Also in the workplace often bullying and harassment starts much more subtly.
  3. Harassment because of someone’s protected characteristic is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
  4. It is everyone’s responsibility to combat this.

Examples of bullying or harassing behaviour include the obvious physical abuse such as hands on touching/force. Also in the workplace often bullying and harassment starts much more subtlety, such as verbal, written or cyber bullying, which has been on the rise over the last 10 years. Sometimes these more subtle approaches may start out with no ill intention, but can quickly get out of hand.  Examples include:

  • spreading malicious rumours
  • unfair treatment
  • picking on or regularly undermining someone
  • denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities
  • jokes or banter


Bullying and harassment can happen via:-

  • physical contact
  • verbal contact
  • by letter
  • by email
  • by phone
  • cyber bullying


In Great Britain and in summary, harassment because of someone’s protected characteristic is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. The nine protected characteristics are:-

  • age
  • disability
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • marriage or civil partnership
  • gender reassignment

Harassment which is entirely unrelated to a protected characteristic isn’t covered by the Act.

Employers Responsibility

As an employer, you should do all you can to try to prevent bullying, harassment, discrimination and victimisation happening in the first place. Anyone who harasses, victimises or discriminates against someone at work is responsible for their own actions. But as an employer, you can be responsible too – this is called ‘vicarious liability’. By law, you must do everything you reasonably can to protect staff from harassment, discrimination and victimisation. This covers:-

  • employees and workers
  • contractors and self-employed people hired to personally do the work
  • job applicants


You also have a responsibility – a ‘duty of care’ – to look after the wellbeing of your employees. If you do not do this, and your employee feels they have no choice but to resign because of it, you could face a claim of constructive dismissal.

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Anti-bullying and harassment policies

One of the key measures to prevent bullying behaviour is an anti-bullying policy that is understood and adhered to by all staff. All companies should have policies in place to deal with bullying and harassment at work which are clear to everyone so that, when incidents do occur, they are dealt with quickly.

How to deal with complaints

All complaints should be dealt with promptly and some may be dealt with internally and informally, but formal procedures should enable an appropriate manager or people professional to take disciplinary steps where needed. A choice of contact should be available in case the person’s manager is the alleged harasser. If informal approaches don’t work or aren’t appropriate, formal procedures should be triggered. They’re needed if the harassment is serious or persists, or if the individual prefers this approach.

Developing a good policy and a no-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment will enable you to reinforce positive behaviours.  Good training for line managers and employees alike demonstrates a commitment to a pleasant working environment and a positive culture where everyone feels safe at work.  Implementing this in the workplace on a day to day basis also helps protect employers if they do have to deal with perpetrators in the workplace, as you then set out behavioural expectations right from the beginning.

A responsibility exists for everyone to combat this unpleasant aspect of working life. For further information on Harassment and Bullying in the workplace and how we can assist or any other HR consultations, please contact us here.

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Sandra Berns

Sandra Berns

Centric HR was founded by Sandra Berns, a confident and versatile Human Resources and Organisational Development Practitioner with 25 years demonstrable experience and a Fellow of the CIPD. Sandra has both Operational and Strategic HR expertise across Public and Private sectors and has assisted senior teams in meeting challenging workforce objectives in many corporate environments.