Harassment and Bullying- Crossing the line what does the law say?
It’s that time of year when we all like to let our hair down and companies organise and host a series of Christmas parties on and off site. The last thing of anyone’s mind is dealing with potential claims of harassment or bullying. Yet it is often these types of events that can give rise to such claims. As with most events of this type the intention behind them is laudable. As a business you want to reward your staff for their hard work and this in seen as one of the best and most enjoyable ways of doing so.
The challenge for businesses is whilst employees are out there enjoying the festivities; they are to all intentions and purpose still your employees. This means any acts committed by one employee against another could leave the organisation exposed to claims of harassment or bullying.
We can perhaps all site examples of a Christmas party where things got a little out of hand and a member of staff – usually a male – although women have been found guilty of this as well, made inappropriate and unwanted advances to a fellow employee after having one glass of wine too many. In such cases, where does the employer stand? This type of case would fall under the heading of harassment even if the incident in question took place outside the office but in a work context, i.e. the Christmas party. If the victim of such unwanted attention chose to take action, the employer would still be liable unless they can show that they acted reasonably.
The same would be true if a senior manager chose to use this occasion to point out the short comings of a member of their team, as the member of staff could claim they felt bullied by the senior manager. There is a time and place for such discussions and the Christmas party is not the place.
What can organisations do to minimise the risk of claims of harassment?
Most organisations will have harassment and bullying policy in place. The policy should be written to ensure that if covers acts committed by employees not only in work premises but outside work premises while on company time. The policy should set out clearly what is meant by harassment and bullying and should also make clear what the consequences are in the event that staff breach the policy.
By setting out your expectations in this way, it makes it easer to for those who feel they have suffered some form of harassment or bullying to report it and for the organisation to take action.
Our HR Dept. can provide you with suitable policies and guidance documents that can be used to help minimise the risk of your employees binging claims of harassment against the employer. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.