Harassment in the Workplace – Are you a Victim?

 In Stress at Work

We spend, on average, more time during the week with our work colleagues then our friends and family. It is therefore important that we maintain a healthy relationship with one another. But what if that relationship is strained because of bullying and harassment? This article looks at the definition of bullying and harassment at work, and whether you may be responsible for, or be a victim of it.

So what is bullying and harassment?

It is defined by the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 as a “course of conduct… which amounts to harassment of another, and… which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other”.  This includes unwanted physical, verbal and non verbal conduct that causes alarm or distress, even if the intention was not to cause that alarm or distress.

Harassment is also 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 for that individual.” A protected characteristic under the act is:

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

While there is no statutory definition of bullying, it could be said that it is characterised alongside harassment as offensive, belittling, malicious behaviour made with the intent of humiliating, insulting or injuring a person.

Harassment at Work

Bullying and harassment takes many forms, it can be an individual (for example a manager) or a group of people and it can be obvious or underhanded and subtle. It can happen face to face, by written notes, email, phone and even computer recordings of work or the number of calls handled.

Whatever way it happens, it is uncomfortable and unwelcome by the person suffering from it.

Some examples of bullying and harassment of work include:

  • spreading malicious rumours;
  • insulting someone with words or behaviour directly or behind their back;
  • ridiculing or belittling someone;
  • setting someone up to fail;
  • exclusion;
  • victimisation;
  • unfair treatment;
  • unwelcome sexual advances;
  • making threats or comments about job security without any reason to do so;
  • deliberately undermining a competent worker e.g. overloading or criticising;
  • overbearing supervision (micromanaging) or other misuse of power or position;
  • preventing someone from progressing by blocking/preventing promotion or training opportunities.

Bullying and harassment can create an awful environment at work. It can cause an individual to feel angry, hopeless, frightened and de-motivated, which can only lead to a drop in productivity. It is important as an employee that you are aware of the remedies available to you if your feel as though you are being bullied and harassed and it is important as an employer that you take a zero-tolerance stance on this behaviour and have policies and procedures in place to deal with it.

My next article will provide advice to employees and employers on how to deal with bullying and harassment at work.

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