Tackling bullying in the workplace: what does the Bullying and Respect at Work Bill mean for employers?

July 24, 2023

By Nicole Brendel

Workplace bullying is becoming an increasingly talked-about issue, not least following the report earlier this year into Dominic Raab’s behaviour towards civil servants.

Bullying in the workplace has been described as a pervasive and widespread problem in the UK, as research suggests that 4.9 million people, (or 15% of the UK workforce) are said to have been bullied at work. However, it is estimated that 53% of UK workers who have been bullied never report it. It is therefore no surprise that proposals have been presented to Parliament to try to tackle the issue. Our employment team have explored how these changes could affect employers.

What will change?

Currently, whilst employers have an implied duty to provide a safe working environment, there is no specific legislation placing a duty to prevent workplace bullying. If employees feel they have been bullied in the workplace, their only option is to resign from their post and claim unfair dismissal or try to argue the conduct relates to a protected characteristic and claim harassment.

Labour’s Rachael Maskell has recently presented the Bullying and Respect at Work Bill to Parliament. The Bill seeks to address the issue of workplace bullying by providing a robust system for reporting, investigating, and enforcing workplace bullying. The Bill provides a statutory definition of bullying at work, and will also enable claims relating to workplace bullying to be considered by an employment tribunal. The Bill also seeks to advance positive behaviours within work environments through a Respect at Work Code, by setting minimum standards for positive and respectful work environments. It also seeks to give enforcement powers to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to investigate workplaces if there is evidence of bullying.

If the Bill were to be passed, the UK would follow other countries such as Australia, Canada and some European countries who have already enacted laws as such.

How will this affect employers?

  • The Bill will give employees significantly more protection for employees by providing them with an avenue to pursue their complaints.
  • Under the Bill, employers who fail to implement a ‘Respect at Work’ Code for minimum standards of behaviour or do not deal appropriately with a bully will likely face sanctions.
  • The Bill allows the Equality and Human Rights Commission to conduct investigations into employers who may be in breach of the anti-bullying legislation.
  • A possible defence for employers is to show they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent such behaviour through policies and training.

Introducing a legal definition of bullying would be a substantial step forward for both employers and employees. Although the Bill may not be passed imminently, employers should protect themselves by having a clear and up to date anti-bullying policy in place, and ensure that managers are adequately trained.

If you require assistance with any of the above, please contact a member of our employment team, Nicole Brendel, on 02920 829 132 or nbrendel@darwingray.com for a free initial chat to see how we can help you.

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