Workplace Guide: Bullying

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Effective Policy and Procedure

This section covers:

Recognising anti-gay bullying and harassment

In order to prevent bullying and harassment of LGB staff, organisations need to recognise it as a specific form of bullying. They should be clear about the nature of the problem and the ways it can occur. Publicising examples of specific unacceptable behaviour will ensure both staff and managers will recognise bullying behaviour, and will be clear about what the organisation will not tolerate. Ensure all staff are aware of their
roles and responsibilities in maintaining an inclusive and welcoming workplace.

Examples of anti-gay bullying and harassment include:

  • Making homophobic insults and threats
  • Making unnecessary and degrading references to an individual’s sexual orientation
  • Engaging in banter or making jokes which are degrading to a person’s sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation
  • Outing an individual as LGB without their permission
  • Ignoring or excluding a colleague from activities because they are LGB
  • Spreading rumours or gossip about an individual’s sexual orientation
  • Asking an LGB colleague intrusive questions about their private life
  • Making assumptions and judgements about a colleague based on their sexual orientation
  • Using religious belief to justify anti-gay bullying and harassment

The Scottish Executive’s Dignity at Work policy gives examples of unacceptable behaviour, with a section making direct reference to harassment of LGB staff:

  • Physical or verbal abuse or intimidation

  • Unwelcome comments or jokes

  • Intimate questions about someone’s personal or sex life

  • Assuming that everyone is heterosexual

  • Making stereotypical assumptions

  • Displaying or circulating homophobic or anti-gay materials

  • Gossip and speculation about someone’s sexuality
    because they are LGB

  • Excluding people because they are LGB

The organisation’s Dignity at Work policy is linked to its Sexual Orientation policy, which states that: Homophobic comments, jokes and use of inappropriate language, which may simply have been intended as ’banter‘, may have the effect of being degrading or distressing and is not acceptable. Your staff, you as a manager and the Scottish Executive may be liable and may have to pay compensation under the Regulations. All staff should be aware that harassment is hurtful, unlawful and totally unacceptable.

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Reporting barriers for lesbian and gay staff

Most organisations have a policy and procedure for addressing bullying and harassment. However, LGB staff can still face specific barriers that prevent them from accessing existing procedures. This can mean that anti-gay bullying and harassment is allowed to continue.

A number of factors can discourage LGB staff from making use of existing policies and procedures to report bullying and harassment. Some of the most common reporting barriers are listed below.

It’ll ruin my career: Despite changes in the law, many LGB staff perceive that being out at work will have a negative impact on their career development. They are therefore unlikely to risk outing themselves by reporting anti-gay bullying and harassment.

It’s just part of our workplace culture: If homophobic banter and jokes are the norm at work and are never challenged, LGB staff are unlikely to feel confident that a complaint about anti-gay bullying and harassment will be taken seriously or dealt with effectively.

I don’t want to come out to my manager: an LGB employee who has been targeted because of their sexual orientation may be reluctant to inform their manager or human resources (HR) if they do not have faith in the organisation’s confidentiality mechanisms and are concerned about labelling or further victimisation.

I don’t want my colleagues to look at me differently: in a workplace where difference is not celebrated and there is peer pressure to conform, LGB staff are likely to be reluctant to come out or challenge behaviour which undermines their dignity and confidence.

Anti-gay bullying is not as serious as other forms of bullying: legal protection from workplace discrimination on the grounds of gender, race and disability are longer established than the law relating to sexual orientation. LGB employees may lack knowledge of their rights and be unaware that homophobic bullying is just as serious as other forms of bullying.

I don’t think my employer would know what to do: organisations that have not visibly championed the rights of LGB employees, that lack staff training on sexual orientation issues or that have failed to resolve complaints of anti-gay bullying and harassment in the past may lead LGB staff to believe that it is not worth reporting problem behaviour.

Homophobia and homophobic comments can affect anyone in a workplace, regardless of their sexual orientation. Straight staff may be bullied for being perceived to be LGB and may not make a complaint for fear of confirming those perceptions. Everyone should be protected from bullying and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Within HM Prison Service the traditional emphasis has been on supporting prisoners, rather than staff, from bullying and harassment by colleagues, prisoners and members of the public. Another challenge is that staff are spread across the service, work in small teams and do not all have access to a desk, computer or telephone. For LGB staff, this can result in a feeling of isolation. This can make it difficult for individuals to report anti-gay bullying and harassment because of concerns that a complaint could damage working relationships and expose the individual to further victimisation.

Traditionally, the childcare sector has not been welcoming to LGB people. For many years it was felt, without justification, that LGB people should not be allowed to work or volunteer with children and young people, and should not have fostering and adoption rights. This meant that Barnardo’s LGB staff may have felt unable to report bullying or harassment if it meant disclosing their sexual orientation and jeopardising their career.

Before January 2000 LGB personnel were banned from serving in the British Armed Forces. At that time, the Royal Navy’s LGB staff therefore had to conceal their sexual orientation. Reporting anti-gay bullying and harassment was not an option as it would result in dismissal. Although the situation has since changed, it takes time and effort to alter attitudes and organisational culture.

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Developing inclusive policies and procedures

Anti-bullying policies and procedures need to be practical, applicable, accessible and communicated to all staff. They should not directly or indirectly discriminate against – or exclude – any individual or group. A policy for dealing with bullying and harassment which is relevant to LGB staff should therefore include:

  • A statement that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated, including on the grounds of sexual orientation
  • A commitment from all levels of the organisation to tackling all forms of bullying and harassment
  • Clear definitions which include anti-gay bullying and harassment
  • Examples of unacceptable behaviour, including anti-gay bullying and harassment
  • Duties of managers in preventing and tackling bullying and harassment, including respecting confidentiality
  • Details of complaints, grievance and disciplinary procedures
  • Details of investigation and support procedures and provisions

It is good practice where possible for this policy to link to the organisation’s equalities policy. Both policies should make reference to sexual orientation as one of the motivating factors for bullying and harassment, and should reiterate that this behaviour will not be tolerated.

The anti-bullying policy should protect employees and govern all behaviour in and around the workplace, for example during work related activities away from the office.
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Putting policy into practice

Organisations generally have a standard set of procedures for making a complaint about bullying and harassment, which all staff should be made aware of.

These procedures should include mechanisms for:

  • Informal resolution
  • Formal resolution
  • Employment tribunal

Informal resolution can provide a means of tackling anti-gay bullying and harassment in the workplace at an early stage, before it escalates. This can help organisations to comply with the law. Acas recommends that, as far as possible, organisations should aim to resolve problems at this stage. Engaging in formal grievance procedures can be stressful and disturbing for everyone involved.

During the informal resolution stage, staff in many workplaces can receive support and have confidential discussions with counsellors and impartial parties trained in recognising bullying and harassment, including trade union representatives. These parties should have detailed knowledge of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations and be confident in dealing with sexual orientation issues sensitively and professionally.

As detailed above, however, many LGB staff may be reticent about using informal procedures. An organisation must actively demonstrate that anti-gay discrimination, bullying and harassment will be taken seriously at this informal stage.

If an issue cannot be resolved informally, the employee can then make a complaint through formal procedures, assuming they have the confidence to do so, rather than just leave the workplace.

Usually, a complaint is taken through a disciplinary procedure and all parties involved seek advice and representation from a trade union representative, from someone impartial in the HR department, or from a bullying and harassment representative within the workplace. As a consequence of this, a thorough and impartial investigation should take place as soon as possible after an incident has been reported.

If the formal investigation fails to resolve the situation, the case can then go to employment tribunal, which can be costly and demoralising for both the organisation and individuals involved. The examples on page 5 demonstrate how the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations have been used at employment tribunals in cases of anti-gay bullying and harassment.

Whenever possible, it makes sense to avoid getting to the employment tribunal stage through prevention and swift internal resolution. Organisations need to be ready to deal with anti-gay bullying and harassment professionally and effectively. They must ensure that their staff feel confident and supported in reporting these problems.

If an employee goes on sick leave or temporarily leaves the workplace as a result of being bullied or harassed, employers must be prepared to support their return to work after the situation has been resolved. Appropriate support might include negotiating a suitable time for returning to work, agreed adjustments to their role or place of work, sensitive communication to colleagues and ensuring the returnee has a supportive manager, mentor or confidant to whom they can turn.
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