As the number of people your business employs grows, so do the chances of you having to deal with a bullying situation within your workplace. If a bullying accusation is made in your business, knowing what you and your HR department should do can be challenging.
In this article, 1st Formations - the UK’s premier company formation agent, look at the steps business owners should take to handle bullying in the working environment. Let’s get started.
Treat all complaints seriously and urgently
Data indicates that 23% of British workers have been bullied in the workplace. This suggests that sooner or later you will be confronted by a bullying incident.
If an employee tells you they are being bullied or believes one of their colleagues is being bullied, you must treat the complaint seriously. Under no circumstances should you brush the complaint off as an overreaction, a simple misunderstanding or just a bit of ‘banter’.
At this initial point, you must forget what you know (or think you know) about your ‘office politics’ - the different personalities, relationships and cliques within the office. You need to review the situation objectively.
Bullying is a serious accusation and failure to approach the issue in the correct way could result in an employee making a claim to an employment tribunal.
The bullying situation is your new priority
Regardless of your busy schedule, do not set the problem aside for another day. Resolving the complaint should become your priority, and you need to demonstrate this to the person who has raised the grievance.
Do not ask that the employee sit on the issue for a period of time and then talk to you again if the problem persists. If they have raised a concern, the issue needs to be addressed at this time. Further incidents after this initial warning would mean that you failed to act and put your employee at risk.
The first step to addressing the problem is to schedule a confidential meeting between you - or an appropriate person within your business, such as a line manager - and the employee who is being bullied. If you feel adequately prepared (and it is you who will be dealing with this), you can hold this meeting at the same time that the issue has been raised, if the employee agrees.
However, if you need time to prepare or would like to brief the person who will be dealing with this, we recommend holding this meeting on the day you were made aware or the day after.
When talking to your employee
The purpose of the first meeting is to find out exactly what has happened. To facilitate this, you must allow the employee to talk freely without interruption. Whilst they do this you should take notes.
You must not try to explain away the problem, giving excuses as to why this has occurred and why there may have been a misunderstanding.
Only when the employee has finished should you ask any questions. The aim now is to get as much detail as you can, such as when and where the incidents took place and if there were any witnesses. It’s possible that the employee will be too upset to provide the specifics, in which case you should give them the opportunity to provide this information in writing or arrange another meeting.
Ask the employee if they are happy to continue working whilst the allegation is investigated, or - if possible - if they want to temporarily switch workplace locations or work from home. Clarify that this is simply an option for them and not a demand. The employee should not feel as though they are being punished for raising this.
Ascertain how serious the allegations are
There are a multitude of scenarios that could be classified as bullying situations.
When describing bullying, The National Bullying Helpline states that it can ‘be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. Bullying can be related to age, sex, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, or any personal characteristic of the individual, and maybe persistent or an isolated incident.’
You will need to make a judgment regarding how serious you believe the accusations are, which will inform how you choose to proceed. In extreme circumstances, such as harassment, it may be necessary to involve the Police.
Attempt to resolve the issue informally (if appropriate)
If the victim is willing, and you believe that the accusations are not worthy of a formal procedure, you should first attempt to settle the problem informally. This will entail privately meeting with the person who has been accused of bullying to explain the current situation and in turn, listen to their explanation. Recognise, that as well as being a remarkably stressful time for the person who has raised the accusation - this will be hard for the person being accused too.
If you decide that their behaviour has been inappropriate, you must make this clear to them, highlighting that bullying is not acceptable and explaining how their actions have made their colleague feel.
If, after this discussion, you believe that a solution can be reached, you should schedule a discussion between all parties involved, where you act as a mediator. It’s then vital that this meeting is conducted in a calm manner where the ideal conclusion is made clear to everyone - a reparation of the working relationship.
Give everyone a chance to talk (again, uninterrupted) and then, look at some specific scenarios - explaining what is and isn’t acceptable, and how you want everyone to conduct themselves in the future.
If the meeting goes well, have another private discussion with the employee who made the accusation, ensuring that they are happy with the resolution. You must then maintain an ongoing dialogue with them to make sure the situation does not arise again.
Make it a formal issue
There will be circumstances where an informal resolution is not appropriate. In these more serious cases, you should deal with the complaint formally. This will require you or an appropriate and neutral employee, such as a manager - to investigate the matter. You may even consider hiring a specialist in workplace conflicts.
Whilst the investigation is ongoing, you should look at your options for separating the parties involved - this may involve suspending from work the person who has been accused.
If the investigation finds that an individual did partake in bullying behaviour, you should take the necessary disciplinary action (in line with your company’s disciplinary procedures). This may result in their dismissal. If the employee is not dismissed, you must monitor them closely from here on, and constantly check in with the employee who was being bullied.
If however, the investigation concludes that bullying did not occur, you must now work to fix their relationship with each other and the business as a whole - as they are both likely to be aggrieved. This should be done through a series of meetings between you and them individually, and as a group - where again you act as a mediator.
Ways your business can prevent bullying
As well as following the steps covered above, you need to work to ensure bullying doesn’t happen in the first place.
If you haven’t already - draw up a rigorous policy regarding bullying and harassment. This should outline the types of behaviours that you deem to be inappropriate (use specific examples) and what will happen if someone is accused of bullying behaviour. Once done, this should be circulated to all employees and stored with internal documents, such as your employee handbook.
When recruiting new team members, as well as considering how well candidates can do the job, think about how they will fit in with your workforce. Do this by holding a series of ‘company culture interviews’, where potential new recruits get to meet members of your existing team. Then listen to what your current employees have to say regarding the candidates’ suitability.
As this would suggest, company culture plays a fundamental role in preventing bullying. By having total ‘buy-in’ from your team when it comes to your culture, any scenarios that are bordering on bullying situations could be self-policed by your employees - with colleagues letting each other know when a line is being crossed. This can stop an issue from escalating into a full bullying incident. Of course, when this does occur, you should be notified too, so that you can keep an eye on any employee whose behaviour is becoming questionable.
Thanks for reading
So there you have it, how business owners should deal with bullying in the workplace. We hope you have found this article useful and are now adequately prepared if a bullying incident does occur in your business.
1st Formations are the UK’s top-rated company formation service and have assisted in the registration of more than 1 million UK limited companies. Their formation process is split into four simple steps; pick your company name, choose a package, make payment, and then complete the simple registration form.