16 Nov 2017 2:58 PM

In the wake of some unsavoury allegations in Westminster, Prime Minister Theresa May insists she is determined to take tough action to protect staff. Westminster are currently hard at work devising credible policies to provide trusted and impartial routes for victims of harassment, bullying and any other form of intimidating behaviour at work.

A robust dignity at work policy provides the necessary framework for workers to feel safe from harassment in their workplace, and supported if they make a grievance.

The Equality Act 2010 defines harassment as ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating and intimidating hostile, degrading. Humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’

Bullying is not defined in law, but ACAS says bullying 'may be characterised as: Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’.

Harassment and Bullying behaviours range from the extreme, e.g. physical violence or unwanted physical contact through to more subtle forms, such as ostracising someone. It can be non-verbal, such as the display of posters, emblems or the sending of inappropriate jokes or literature.  Before jumping to conclusions, impartial, independent and objective investigation is of paramount importance.  Recent tragic events stress the importance of the basic principles of justice; that while investigations ensue and facts are established, both the alleged offender and victim must be fully and equally supported.

Cases which are less extreme or less overt can be intangible. For example, the complaint may boil down to a misplaced perception; a set of circumstances, a word or a deed that offends one person may be perfectly innocuous to another. 

The person to whom a complaint is made may initially consider the merits and possibilities of informal resolution or mediation. He or she may consider if the ostensible circumstances are such that the parties may be safely brought together, in a neutral environment, where parties may be facilitated to understand each other’s perspectives on the matter.  The apparent victim would be enabled to explain to the alleged offender how the actions, words or deeds in question made him/her feel.  The alleged offender would be given the opportunity to explain his or her intentions and motives.  Such a mediation type scenario must be very carefully considered and managed and ideally by an impartial trained mediator.

A Formal Procedure for dealing with grievances

Often an allegation may require a more formal process. All organisations should have procedures for dealing with grievances and will ideally also have a separate, similar policy specifically to deal with complaints relating to harassment, bullying and any other form of intimidating behaviour at work.  A typical procedure will prescribe steps to be followed, but should include;

  • Where and who to report concerns to
  • Re-assurance of prompt impartial response
  • A process to obtain witness statements (in writing)
  • A process for listening to version of events from both alleged offender and apparent victim and any other witnesses
  • Clear timescales for resolution
  • Realistic expectations of confidentiality

Whichever process is followed, a record of complaints and investigations must be retained as sensitive data. These will include the names of the people involved, dates, the nature and frequency of incidents, action taken, follow-up and monitoring information.

Are you happy that your dignity at work policy would stand up if put to the test? Maybe its time to review your policy objectively and update it. If you don’t have a formal policy in place, maybe now is a good time to create one and communicate it to your staff?

Please contact me if you would like help in reviewing or drafting a dignity at work policy that will provide reassurance to your workers.