We have seen a rapid increase in digital communication with channels such as Whats App, Slack and Teams offering valuable opportunities for employees to collaborate and maintain contact while working from home.
However, with the escalation of home working our working environments have become less formal and the boundaries between our professional and private lives have become blurred. Communication lines are now easier to cross, particularly when these apps have previously been used more for social interaction.
Bullying claims are on the rise
Since the pandemic there has been a significant focus on promoting employee wellbeing, especially with many organisations embracing the hybrid working model. Although these new working arrangements may have provided relief for some employees experiencing workplace bullying, that cannot be said for everyone.
Remote working has in fact created new opportunities for inappropriate behaviour that is sometimes difficult to identify and address. In the past year, the number of bullying claims brought before the Employment Tribunal reached an all-time high with a 44% increase on the previous year.
What one employee judges to be ‘harmless banter’, another employee may perceive as inappropriate or even offensive. Examples of reported incidents include:
- Cutting remarks during video calls
- Deliberately leaving colleagues out of remote meetings
- Using messaging apps to gossip about colleagues
Failure to act upon an employee’s bullying or harassment complaint will leave the employer exposed to a constructive dismissal claim if the employee resigns as a consequence, and, if the harassment is linked to a protected characteristic, a claim of unlawful discrimination. Even if the employee chooses not to resign, it could give rise to long term absence on the grounds of stress and anxiety, which can be costly to manage.
What should you do to protect your organisation from complaints of bullying or harassment?
Employers have a duty of care to do what is reasonable to protect employees from bullying and harassment during their employment. With more and more victims of bullying and harassment speaking publicly about their experiences, doing nothing is simply not an option for employers.
Bullying and harassment policies should be monitored and regularly reviewed for effectiveness, and it is important to issue any updates to staff. Here are some tips on how to prevent problems arising:
- Give examples of what constitutes inappropriate or intimidating behaviour in your bullying and harassment policy, including work events and third-party harassment by customers, suppliers and consultants.
- Review your IT policy to cover communications via digital channels and provide examples of what is not acceptable.
- Train managers on effective digital communication in the workplace to ensure they understand their role in addressing all forms of inappropriate behaviour.
- Provide employees with a means of raising issues before they escalate so they feel able to speak up if they think boundaries have been crossed.
- Be prepared to take disciplinary action where a complaint of bullying is upheld.
If you need help updating your bullying and harassment policies, or would like to find out more about what to do when office banter goes too far, please get in touch by calling 01942 727 200 or email email@example.com