Would You Spot Bullying And Harassment In Your Business? And If So, Do You Know What To Do About It?

All managers, supervisors and HR specialists must regard the harassment/bullying policy, along with equality and diversity policy, as one of their operational ‘musts’.

They must be seen to follow it and observe it all times. If anyone in these roles are called to give evidence in a tribunal they should be able to demonstrate that they understood the company’s policy and that they applied it. If they fail to do so, any attempt by the company to mount a defence that it took reasonably practicable steps to prevent harassment from occurring, will be futile.

Line managers have a particular duty to ensure that the company’s policy on harassment and bullying is observed.

In particular, they should:

  • be alert to the possibility that a person who has been harassed may feel reluctant to take the matter up with the offender(s) or to make a complaint
  • take prompt action, ie step in to stop harassment as soon as it is identified, making it clear to staff that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable and, where appropriate, will be treated as a disciplinary matter
  • ensure that potentially offensive material is not displayed or circulated
  • treat any allegations of harassment seriously, and in confidence, and investigate them promptly
  • ensure that staff are protected against victimisation for making, or being involved in, a complaint.

It is not acceptable for line managers to dismiss complaints or instances of unacceptable behaviour without proper, discreet investigation and consideration. If they fail to treat complaints seriously then they will be subjecting the complainant to a further detriment and could be held individually liable.

Behaviours that you may not realise may constitute harassment



  • Jokes, banter or remarks about women (or men) generally which are demeaning or derogatory
  • Playing pranks on someone who is the only woman (or man) in an otherwise male (female) workplace.



  • Office gossip or detrimental speculation about private sexual activities
  • Jokes or banter of a sexual nature, coarse or vulgar humour
  • The display of pin-up calendars or pictures of naked women (or men)


Sexual orientation

  • Deliberate isolation of someone at work or non-cooperation on the grounds of the person’s sexual orientation
  • Teasing directed at an employee on account of the fact they have a same-sex partner or a son or daughter who is gay, lesbian or bisexual.



  • Language that is racially offensive or derogatory, whether oral or in writing
  • Deliberate isolation of someone at work or non-cooperation on the grounds of race
  • The conspicuous display of a tattoo or the wearing of a shirt or badge that displays a racist or racially offensive slogan



  • Jokes or banter based on religion
  • The conspicuous display of a tattoo or the wearing of a shirt or badge that displays a slogan that is offensive to people of a particular religion
  • The blatant and conspicuous wearing of jewellery with an obvious religious message
  • The wearing of clothing displaying football slogans that have a sectarian significance.



  • Pranks played against a disabled employee
  • Jokes or banter based on disability generally, about a particular type of disability, or about a particular person with a disability
  • Mimicking someone with a disability, eg someone with a speech impairment



  • Treating a young colleague’s ideas or suggestions as inferior just because of their youth
  • Teasing directed at an employee on account of the fact that they have a much older or much younger partner
  • Cracking jokes or making demeaning remarks suggesting that an older person’s physical or mental faculties may be declining on account of their age.

Harassment complaints must always be investigated, here are a few pointers as to what should be done.


Ensure the investigator is impartial and not had any previous involvement in the circumstances. Examine any written documentation. Inform the person that a formal complaint has been raised and what is happening as a result.

Arranging the investigatory interview

Consider reasonable adjustments, check if the complainant would like a colleague to accompany them. Explain what will happen before, during and after the interview.

Further investigation

Make a list of any further information required, interview any witnesses and analyse any further evidence. Set out the exact details of the complaint, the complainant’s feelings and the facts surrounding it.

Investigatory interview with the alleged harasser

Make arrangements for the interview, following the same process as before. Stress that it is an investigatory meeting (not a disciplinary). Probe answers that seem to be a brush-off and excusing behaviour.

Further investigation

Make a list of further information required.

The process

Re-examine the evidence in the light of both interviews. Complete a full written report and the conclusions reached and why.

Problems with bullying and harassment are less likely to arise in businesses where a culture of respect is strongly embedded. There, you’re likely to find well-established channels of communication and consultation where views and concerns are openly and readily aired and discussed. In the same places you’re also likely to find well-trained managers and supervisors who are highly effective people managers.

If you’d like help with a bullying and harassment case complaint, or in establishing stronger values in your business culture please get in contact with us on 01386 751740 or at [email protected]

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