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Compliance

Could your business be classed as a ‘toxic workplace’?

Feb 14, 2017 Elaine Pritchard

This new phraseology doesn’t mean your work environment is filled with poisonous gases. Instead, ‘toxic workplace’ refers to company cultures filled with poisonous remarks or actions – in short, bullying.

Although the Equality Act 2010 gives the definition for harassment 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”, there is no official definition for bullying within the Act.

So what behaviour is legally classified as bullying?

The definition of bullying as given by ACAS states that bullying may be characterised as “offensive, malicious, intimidating or insulting behaviour”. It can be an “abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”.

However, this description still leaves bullying open to interpretation – what one person may consider bullying another may consider strong management, but regardless of interpretation bullying in the workplace seems to be on the rise.

What’s the effect of bullying in the workplace?

The main effects could be an unhappy and unproductive workforce, with low morale and little or no respect for supervisors or managers, sickness absence (both long and short term), loss of good staff because of a sour atmosphere, and, at the extreme end of the scale, tribunal cases.

It has been shown that there is a definite link between increases in bullying and the increasing number of cases of workplace stress and sickness absence. In addition, it has been reported that workplace stress is now the biggest cause of long-term sickness absence for all types of employees.

The wider impact of bullying

Although some employees may be able to stand up to bullying and report it, there are many who feel they cannot.

Research has found that individuals can experience both physical and psychological problems which not only affect their work but also their relationships with family and friends as well.

In addition, similar affects may be experienced by someone who witnesses bullying.

Such feelings may lead to them resigning and finding alternative work or, in some devastating cases, can lead to them being out of work totally as they cannot cope with the stress caused by the bullying.

The impact on the business can also be high.

There is the obvious cost of sickness absence, accompanied by possible drops in production levels and lowered morale. But there could also be damage to the business’s reputation (and finances), especially if a case of bullying were to end up in a tribunal.

What can employers do to minimise the risk of bullying?

You should already have a policy in place within your Employee Handbook (Moorepay clients have this as standard).

So your first step is to ensure all your employees are aware of the policy.

However, you should pay particular attention to your management team – setting a good example from the top down is just as important, if not more so, than your policy statement.

Ensuring that any complaints from employees are dealt with promptly and fairly is also of extreme importance. And it’s paramount that employees need to feel they can raise issues or complaints without fear of reprisal or victimisation.

Many surveys have shown that a large percentage of employees would not raise a bullying issue, either because they have no confidence they would be taken seriously and/or action would be taken, or fear that they would be further punished, bullied or victimised for doing so.

Possibly the most important thing you can do is maintain good manager/employee relations which, in turn, gives employees the confidence to raise any issues with their line manager and give managers the opportunity to deal quickly with any issues raised.

In many cases, this early intervention may mean the issue can be resolved informally, resulting in less stress for all concerned.

For advice and support on managing bullying in your workplace contact the Moorepay employment law team to discuss your particular concerns or queries – contact the team or call 0845 619 1743.

Elaine Pritchard

Elaine Pritchard

Employment Law Consultant

Elaine has a wealth of knowledge in producing contracts, training materials and other documentation as well as training other consultants. She piloted a scheme whereby she went on-site to act as a client’s HR Manager two days per week, whilst the post-holder was on maternity leave. Elaine also previously ran her own retail business for seven years, employing four people. Elaine is a field based consultant for Moorepay and provides on-site HR and Employment Law advice, consultancy and training services to our clients.