With many employees facing bullying or harassment in the workplace, employers need to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to this problem, ensuring staff work in a safe environment and are treated with respect.

The situation

While most companies have policies on preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace, too many organisations have workplace cultures in which people are afraid to challenge inappropriate behavior or ignored when they do so. As a result, far too many employees continue to face bullying and harassment in the workplace.

A 2016 report by the TUC, Still just a bit of banter?, showed that more than half of women overall, and nearly two-thirds of women aged 18-24, had experienced sexual harassment at work. CIPD research shows that one in four employees had experienced ‘bullying, intimidation or harassment’ at work, with the same proportion reporting ‘shouting or heated arguments and verbal abuse or insult.’

CIPD viewpoint

Organisations should have a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of bullying or harassment. Though some of the reasons for this are obvious (legal and reputational risk, work and underperformance), employers also have a fundamental duty to ensure that their staff work in a safe environment, are treated with respect, and have their well-being is maintained.

Workers subjected to bullying or harassment experience high stress, become less engaged and are more prone to sickness absence, all of which may lead to higher staff turnover and less productive teams.

Employers must have clear policies on dignity and respect at work, highlighting the behaviours expected by all employees. Managers at all levels must understand their role in leading by example, being proactive if there’s evidence of poor behavior, and responding promptly and consistently to any complaints of bullying or harassment.

All allegations of bullying and harassment should be taken seriously and managed consistently, with formal action taken where necessary.

Actions for Government

  • Narrow the gap between legislative compliance and workplace practice by partnering with organisations like the CIPD, Acas and EHRC; this ensures advice and guidance for dealing with bullying and harassment is consistent and accessible.

  • Issue clearer rules and guidance to prevent inappropriate use of confidentiality agreements and other abuses of the law.

  • Support a ‘Know your rights’ campaign in partnership with bodies like the CIPD, Acas and the Citizens Advice Bureau, trade unions, and professional bodies to ensure that the workforce is aware of their rights at work.

  • Conduct a review into Section 40 of the Equality Act (2010) to assess what measures can better protect workers from third-party harassment. This review should also consider the pros and cons of the re-introduction of the statutory discrimination questionnaires as a means of shining light on discriminatory behaviour in the workplace.

  • HR’s watchdog role is missing from small and micro businesses, which often have very limited/no HR knowledge or expertise. Invest in improving the quality of HR support to small firms delivered at a local level via programmes like the CIPD People Skills Hub (successfully piloted in a number of areas).

Recommendations for employers

  • Put in place a robust and well-communicated policy that clearly articulates the organisation’s commitment to promoting dignity and respect at work, and the behaviours expected.

  • Use training and guidance to ensure that senior leaders and managers role-model and champion the correct behaviours.

  • Ensure there are mechanisms for personal accountability, particularly for those in positions of influence or those with discretionary or decision-making power.

  • Train line managers to manage people properly, including spotting and dealing promptly with inappropriate behaviour, conflict or other situations that could escalate into harassment and bullying.

  • Implement procedures and training to ensure there is a clear and simple way for concerns to be raised or complaints to be made. Allegations should be assessed and resolved speedily, seriously and confidentially and the processes should be consistent and reliable.

  • Treat formal allegations of harassment, bullying or any intimidating behaviour as a disciplinary offence.

  • People should be encouraged/rewarded to play their part in making the policies a reality and to challenge inappropriate behaviour.

CIPD resources and references

Explore our related content

CIPD viewpoint

Explore the CIPD's collected perspective on the key issues impacting work, including recommendations, supporting evidence and links to resources for policymakers and employers

Read more

Policy engagement

Engaging with ministers, other policy makers and our membership to inform our views to influence government

Read more
Top