Employers Liabilities

Avoiding Trouble


Prevention is always better than cure and the moment an issue becomes formal it can feel like everyone has lost.

Far better to ceate the atmosphere where bullying is not tolerated in the first place.


This means that the management has to be aware of what is  and isnt acceptable behaviour and to ensure that everyone is trained and aware of the information.


Good management is the best way to avoid or deal with bullying issues in the workplace. Trust should be built up and maintained from the start. A good HR department is invaluable as well unfortunatly in small companies where the bully is the company owner this is not possible.


Resist the temptation to put your existing anti-harassment policy on your PC screen and use your word processor to find all occurrences of the word "harassment" and add after it the words "and bullying". It doesn't work.


A wider approach is likely to be more effective, especially in the long-term. Instead of having one policy on harassment, I suggest having an overall policy called, say, Dignity at Work, which contains an introduction stating the reasons for having this policy etc, then separate chapters on harassment, discrimination, assault and violence, bullying, treatment of minorities, etc in line with your chosen ethos and emphasis.


You can orient it towards equal opportunities, or diversity, or legalities, or cost, or benefits to employees and business, or whatever you choose. This way, you can update individual sections without having to re-issue the whole policy every time. The phrase "Dignity at Work" derives from European law, whereby harassment and discrimination are examples of unacceptable behaviour which "affect the dignity of men and women at work". The way the Act applies to the UK and what Acts under UK law it draws are available here.

The NI Equality Commission has an interesting set of publications that may be of assistance


Make sure you understand the different types of bullies. The way in which you deal with each will vary. For example, mediation is useful with unwitting bullying and organisational bullying, but it's wholly inappropriate for dealing with a serial bully. Some bullies like mediation because it gives them the opportunity of appearing to be conciliatory whilst simultaneously evading accountability and carrying on with their bullying. Although there may be a pause, within two weeks, the bullying will have resumed.


Ensure you know how to identify, expose and deal with the serial bully, who is often an unrecognised sociopath. It is estimated one person in thirty is a serial bully. Find out how the serial bully gets away with their unacceptable behaviour repeatedly. Start by learning to recognise the serial bully from his/her behaviour profile.


Know how to investigate a case of bullying. it's a specialised job and an investigation is more than just asking questions and taking statements. The serial bully is adept at creating conflict between those who would otherwise pool negative information about them whilst indulging their gratification of seeing others (employer and employee) destroy each other. The serial bully is also adept at distorting people's perceptions of them. In the event of the serial bully being identified and held to account, the bully may leave, resulting in the employer defending litigation (for the bully's behaviour) which may last years.


If you have a serial bully on the staff, then the bullying you see will be only the tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing by that person.


Resist the temptation to take an existing unresolved case and make this person a guinea pig early on before the ink on the policy is dry. If the policy doesn't work, the person may feel further victimised and more litigious


All employers should put into place an anti-bullying strategy by ensuring that contracts of employment state that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated and confirm that any bullying behaviour will result in disciplinary action. 


There should be a grievance procedure that provides a clear way for the employee to complain and voice their problems.  This may not put off the calculating bully but it may deter those who believe that management will not take it seriously.


All complaints received must be investigated promptly and objectively.  Employees do not usually make serious accusations unless they feel seriously upset or aggrieved.

This investigation must be objective and independent.


Some problems can be rectified quickly and informally, sometimes people are not aware that their behaviour has caused any upset or offence and by discussing this an agreement can be reached that this behaviour will cease.  The victim may do this himself or herself or they may require support from an employer, an employee representative, or a counsellor.


An employer may decide that it is a disciplinary issue, which needs to be dealt with formally at the appropriate level and in line with the disciplinary procedure.


Representation is a grey area in the UK, with many employers claiming that the person who is the alleged target of bullying is not entitled to representation.

Denial of representation is a common tactic by which bullies reveal themselves.


The Employment Rights Act 1996 gives employees the legal right to be accompanied during grievance procedures and disciplinary hearings, but only by a union rep or fellow worker; the former often are too involved with management to be impartial, and the latter are too frightened to come forward and are often threatened by the bully anyway.


A reasonable employer will go beyond what the law requires and allow the target to be accompanied by a person of their own choosing. In fact employer should allow and encourage both parties to have a representative of their choice and without limitation present in all meetings related to the formal procedure


If this is permitted then the advice would be to get a professional in as opposed to a friend who will be biased or may behave inappropriatly.

The company can also train other employees in the role of mediator so the target feels that they have a greater range of help to choose from within the organisation.


Employer Associations

Carrie Herbert Consultancy

Institute for Employment Studies

Charted Institute of Personnel and Development


Employer liabilities (UK)

This section applies to UK as of May 2005 and is subject to change.

Employers are liable for harassment.  The liability for bullying also lies with the employer. It is strongly linked to supervision and management.


Under UK law the term harrassment is often used as well as the word bullying.


# Health and Safety Act 1974 – employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees and are liable for the actions of their employees at work.


# Employment Rights Act 1996 – incorporates an employee’s right to claim ‘unfair constructive dismissal’ when an employee resigns in the face of the employer’s breach of contract which may include failure to protect their health and safety.


# Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 – this created a criminal offence of ‘intentional harassment’ whether in the workplace or elsewhere.


#Harassment Act 1997

An Act to make provision for protecting persons from harassment and similar conduct.


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