In this instalment of our Breaking Down the Handbook series we look at dignity at work policies, in particular why employers should have them, what they should contain, and how they should be applied in the workplace.

What is dignity at work policy?

Dignity at work is the term to describe a positive approach to conducting workplace relationships, based on a commitment to restrict all forms of unacceptable behaviour, including bullying and harassment in the workplace and to treat all employees with respect.

If implemented effectively, a dignity at work policy can provide a framework to deal with inappropriate behaviour through which employers can assess the impact of unacceptable behaviour. It can also help define more clearly the types of behaviour considered to be acceptable and unacceptable, and develop appropriate processes, procedures and initiatives for dealing with undesirable forms of behaviour and generally promoting dignity at work.

In short, a comprehensive dignity at work strategy can dramatically improve the way a business operates and help address the root cause of inappropriate behaviour.

Why have a dignity at work policy?

Employers have a responsibility to deal with and investigate work-related complaints of unlawful discrimination and to put these right where possible. Accusations of bullying and harassment are common in the workplace and should always be taken seriously, as if not dealt with appropriately, they could result in an employee bringing an employment tribunal claim which can be a huge drain of time and money on the business.

It is in the interest of employees and employers to try and put things right before the situation escalates to a potential claim and to have solid procedures and policies in place to deal with the situation as effectively as possible.

It is also important as an employer to set out clear examples of behaviour and actions that will not be tolerated and are considered bullying and harassment in the workplace, so employees are aware what is expected of them.

What should a dignity at work policy cover?

There will be some overlap and link between a dignity at work policy and other company policies such as grievance policies and equality and diversity policies or statements.

Generally a dignity at work policy should cover the following points:

  • Provide a statement of the business' commitment to tackle unacceptable behaviour and promote dignity at work;
  • Give a summary of the key problems and issues that need to be addressed with clear aims and objectives of how they will be achieved;
  • Set out an action plan of specific objectives and activities and who will be responsible for them;
  • Describe the protected characteristics covered under the Equality Act 2010 e.g. age, sex, disability, and clearly state that any harassment or bullying of workers or job applicants related to any of these characteristics will not be tolerated;
  • Make it clear that harassment and/or bullying will be treated as a disciplinary offence and the possible action that could be taken, providing relevant examples of bullying and harassment;
  • Clearly explain how a worker or job applicant can make a complaint, informally and formally;
  • State clearly that complaints of harassment and/or bullying will be dealt with within a reasonable time, treated seriously and confidentially, and that someone complaining will be protected from victimisation;
  • Describe what support is available to a worker or applicant if they think they are being harassed and/or bullied, for example, counselling or a worker assistance programme;
  • Describe any training/other resources available for workers to help them spot and stop harassment;
  • Describe how your policy will be implemented, reviewed and monitored.

Applying policies in practice

For a dignity at work policy to be effective, there needs to be clear, consistent communication with all employees to ensure they are fully informed of the expectations on them. It is often best for organisations to secure commitment to dignity at work at a leadership level, which can then be filtered down into the workforce. Having a written dignity at work policy will provide a solid foundation and basis upon which employers and employees can build together to create an effective work environment.

Training for managers and/or all members of staff is essential to introduce and enforce a policy of zero tolerance towards bullying and harassment and other forms of unacceptable behaviour. It can also help encourage a change in attitudes and overall workplace culture.