Workplace Guide: Bullying

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The Business Case

This section covers:

What is bullying and harassment?

It is generally agreed that bullying means offending, persecuting or excluding someone. Harassment is usually defined as constant interference or intimidation that violates people’s dignity or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

LGB employees can experience bullying and harassment specifically intended to demean them because of their sexual orientation, or perceived sexual orientation. Bullying and harassment of this sort can be highly personal, and employees often find it difficult to report the problem.
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What is the impact of bullying and harassment?

Bullying and harassment in the workplace can negatively affect employees’ well-being and professional performance. If not tackled, this behaviour can have very serious consequences, for the individual who is bullied or harassed and also for colleagues who witness such incidents. This, in turn, can negatively affect the organisation as a whole and undermine the confidence of external stakeholders.

Impact on the individual:

  • Low self-confidence
  • Demotivation
  • Stress
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Ill health

Impact on the organisation:

  • Low staff morale
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Reduced productivity
  • Recruitment and retention problems
  • Costly legal action
  • Damaged image and reputation
  • Loss of client and customer confidence

UMIST estimates that more than two million people in the UK are experiencing bullying at work. Research from the Department of Health indicates that stress-related sickness absence costs more than £5 billion a year and Amicus suggests that bullying, a major cause of stress, costs the UK economy £1.3 billion a year.
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The legal framework

Employers have a duty of care towards all of their employees. If an employer fails to honour this by not tackling bullying and harassment, an employee can legally claim constructive dismissal. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees, which covers
the effects of bullying and harassment.

Further to this, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment and vocational training. This legislation specifically bans direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of sexual orientation (see Stonewall’s Guidelines for Employers for further details). The Regulations provide protection for LGB workers throughout the entire employment relationship, from recruitment to dismissal, including employees who are posted overseas but contracted in Great Britain.

The burden of proof lies with the employer. This means that the employer must demonstrate that they have not violated the law, rather than the employee having to prove that there has been discrimination. In order to comply with the law, employers must ensure that they create a working environment which does not encourage or permit – either indirectly or directly – the bullying and harassment of LGB staff. Furthermore, the employer should be able to demonstrate that an employee has adequate support to resolve any incidents of anti-gay bullying through the organisation’s informal and formal procedures.

The first worker in Britain to win a case under the Regulations was Rob Whitfield, a gay office manager who claimed constructive dismissal on the grounds of sexual orientation. At an employment tribunal Whitfield outlined the homophobic taunts and repeated humiliations that he endured, and his sales manager’s continual references to his sexuality. In January 2005 the tribunal found that Whitfield had been victimised because of his sexual orientation and had suffered sustained abuse at waste disposal company Cleanaway UK. He was awarded £35,000.

Alan Whitehead resigned from his job at the Brighton Palace Pier after finding out that he had been the subject of a homophobic remark from a colleague. In his claim for unfair dismissal and harassment, Whitehead alleged that his dignity had been violated. The tribunal held that the term used was ’exceptionally offensive‘, and in January 2005 awarded him nearly £10,000 in compensation. This landmark ruling effectively prohibits the use of homophobic language in the workplace, and has important implications for all employers because in this case the offending comment was not made directly to the victim.

Durham City Council was found guilty in May 2005 of discriminating against a gay theatre worker, Fausto Gismondi, by failing to prevent months of bullying and harassment by his manager. The tribunal commented that the council had ’signally failed in their duty to an employee who has been bullied and harassed, contrary to their own express policies’. Durham City Council and the harasser were both found by the tribunal to have breached the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

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The benefits for organisations

BUILDS REPUTATION An organisation which openly and actively prevents and challenges anti-gay bullying and harassment will be perceived positively by current employees. It may also become an employer of choice for prospective employees, both LGB and straight. If the problem of anti-gay behaviour is not addressed and results in legal action, the damage to external reputation can be huge. This can impact on image, recruitment and customer confidence for many years.

REDUCES STAFF TURNOVER Preventing anti-gay bullying and harassment will help employee retention and will reduce recruitment and retraining costs. Retaining LGB employees is an important aspect of diversity work and will ensure the workforce reflects the wider world – an attractive feature to prospective employees and potential stakeholders alike.

IMPROVES PERFORMANCE An organisation which permits any form of discrimination will undermine the morale of the wider workforce. Bullying and harassment of LGB staff can distract employees, increase sickness levels and affect the motivation of the victim as well as those who witness incidents. Preventing anti-gay bullying will ensure a happier and a more productive and effective workforce, where LGB staff will feel they can be themselves without fear of victimisation.

AVOIDS RISK Employers are legally obliged to protect staff from bullying, and to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Employers must be able to prove they have taken steps to prevent bullying and harassment of LGB staff, and must tackle it if it occurs, in order to avoid costly and damaging employment tribunals. The benefits for lesbian and gay employees
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The benefits for LGB employees

DEMONSTRATES DUTY OF CARE Employers have a duty of care to protect all their employees. LGB employees who have been assured that a complaint about anti-gay bullying and harassment will be taken seriously and treated confidentially are more likely to report the problem and enable its resolution, rather than feel that they have to resign.

INCREASES MOTIVATION Where LGB staff feel protected from bullying and harassment they will also feel valued and respected. This will impact on their levels of motivation, their general well-being at work and their attitude towards the organisation. Thirty six per cent of LGB employees will change jobs if discrimination, including bullying and harassment, continues (Irwin, 1999).
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The benefits for customers and clients

SAFEGUARDS CUSTOMER CONFIDENCE Clients and customers are more likely to trust and have confidence in an organisation’s brand and services if that organisation has a reputation for treating its LGB staff well. Research indicates that 74 per cent of LGB consumers and 42 per cent of straight consumers are less likely to buy products from companies which are known to hold negative views of LGB people (Harris Interactive, 2000). This includes organisations that have been subject to legal action. Retaining LGB staff will also ensure the workforce reflects the wider population and better understands its diverse needs.

Lothian and Borders Police has recognised that as an employer and a service provider, it needs to ensure its employment practices do not reinforce traditionally negative stereotypes of policing. This includes tackling anti-gay bullying and harassment. The organisation wants to be considered as an employer of first choice. Failing to tackle anti-gay discrimination would undermine this status and the confidence of the local LGB communities, whose engagement is necessary to deliver effective crime prevention services.

Cardiff University recognises that its entire community needs to be protected from all types of bullying and harassment, including antigay bullying, for the university to function as a world class organisation. Its Dignity at Work and Study Policy is therefore aimed at both staff and students. The policy sets out the positive and proactive ways in which everyone can contribute to an inclusive culture based on the values of dignity, courtesy and respect, with a commitment to equality and diversity.

National children’s charity Barnardo’s has published a series of posters that depict LGB young people, carers and parents. The posters indicate that an office or space is a Safe Zone for LGB staff, volunteers and service users. The posters are only displayed once staff have undergone training to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The posters ensure staff are aware that homophobia, including bullying and harassment, will be taken seriously and challenged.

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