Anti-bullying week is drawing to a close, and today (Thursday 15th November) is particularly poignant, as it’s the first time ever a campaign will run specifically targeted at cyberbullying.
One of Morecrofts’ employment and HR Specialists, Sarah Maher takes a look at what this week is all about, and in particular what employers should be doing to ensure their workplace is bully-free.
What is anti-bullying week?
It is anti-bullying week this week. This event is organised annually by the Anti-Bullying Alliance to raise awareness of the impact of bullying on children and young people and to support those who are affected.
This year’s theme is ‘Choose Respect’ The theme highlights that ‘we can respectfully disagree with each other i.e. we don’t have to be best friends or always agree with each other but we do have to respect each other’ and ‘that we all need to choose to respect each other both face to face and online’.
Respecting each other online
This year, on the 15th, they will hold their first ever anti-cyberbullying day called ‘Stop Speak Support‘
They quote that cyberbullying is a significant issue for young people today with one in five teenagers in England having experienced cyberbullying in the last two months. Cyber-bullying can also affect young people and adults in the workplace.
Not all bullying and harassment takes place on a face-to-face basis. Many of use technology and social media in and outside of the workplace and connect with our colleagues outside of work. As such, it is not always obvious to the employer that bullying is occurring and when it happens the lines between what is a workplace issue and an ‘off-duty’ issue between two or more colleagues can become blurred.
Bullying can take a number of forms. ACAS quotes some examples in their guidance on bullying and harassment at work
- Spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone by word or behaviour;
- Ridiculing or demeaning someone;
- Exclusion or victimisation;
- Unfair treatment;
- Misuse of power or position;
- Unwelcome sexual advances.
These behaviours can manifest themselves easily online and at any time of the day. They can sometimes manifest themselves anonymously. The impact on the individual can be enormous affecting their wellbeing and confidence and sometimes resulting in poor performance and attendance issues. It can cause some employees to resign.
Will employers be responsible for what their employees do?
Employers may face claims for constructive dismissal if they fail to properly investigate and tackle bullying. If the bullying and harassment links to a protected characteristic they may face claims under the Equality Act 2010.
Employers could be liable for their employees’ bullying behaviour if it takes place ‘in the course of employment’ which generally has a wide meaning. This could be because something happens during the working day, the individual uses the employer’s IT and communications equipment (including smartphones) to bully a colleague or the instigator is in a position of authority.
What can employers do to protect themselves and their employees?
Employers should take steps to make their workers aware of their policies on bullying and harassment including the use of social media and technology in and outside of work. Training and awareness is also key as is reacting consistently and responsibly when complaints are made. More importantly employers can work with employees to create a positive workplace culture that discourages such behaviours in the first place and quickly weeds them out when they occur.