Following on from our previous article, where we discussed the prevention of workplace bullying, we now turn to the steps a manager or leader can take when bullying happens or is alleged. The most effective response will be one that is consistent with workplace policies and wider employment law obligations (which can become a minefield when multiple people are involved!).
Employers’ responsibilities generally
An employer’s overarching duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace should underpin every decision made with regards to a bullying complaint. There are often more than two employees involved in bullying situations – all to whom the employer owes a duty of care.
The subject-matter, number of witnesses and steps taken in respect of a bullying complaint can all increase an employer’s legal liability if bullying concerns remain unresolved. We recommend employers seek legal advice as soon as possible after receiving a bullying complaint to ensure obligations are met.
Practical steps you can take when addressing a bullying complaint
Generally, managers and leaders who have been made aware of bullying should:
- As soon as possible, acknowledge receipt of any communication which raises concerns of behaviour that could amount to bullying.
- Seek advice from the organisation’s HR professional or lawyer. We encourage employers to take this step as early as possible to ensure they start on the right path. The need to ‘redo’ part of the process can be costly, time consuming and can impact already strained relationships.
- Triage the complaint and consider:
- whether, based on the information received, the behaviour complained of could meet the definition of bullying (or other unwanted conduct) in your organisation’s policies; and/or
- whether further details are needed from the complainant or others within the organisation.
- Consider any other steps that must be followed under the workplace bullying policy. If your organisation does not have such a policy, seek legal advice regarding the best process to follow to address the complaint.
- Communicate your initial views to the alleged victim and let them know how the organisation is proposing to respond to the concerns. This may be by way of:
- internal investigation;
- independent investigation; or
- a facilitated meeting.
- Depending on the nature of the allegations, it may be necessary to take interim measures to ensure the complainant’s safety and welfare. However, employers should be careful to avoid pre-determining the outcome of any investigation by taking these measures.
You may have noticed that these are all steps that might need to be taken before raising the concern with the person that may be behaving in a way that could amount to bullying. All too often employers leap into a process without first considering whether that process is in fact necessary. Leaping in too early can have its own legal risk.
The team at Black Door Law are experienced in guiding employers through the resolution of bullying and harassment complaints. Get in touch with the team if you need to address potential bullying in your workplace.
Disclaimer: This information is intended as general legal information and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a specific issue and wish to discuss it, get in contact with the Black Door Law team.
This article is part of a 6 part series on Workplace Bullying, our other articles in the series can be found in the following links: