One of the most basic expectations that employees have is to be treated with dignity and respect at work. Bullying in the workplace is a growing problem though; the ACAS helpline alone receives 20,000 calls each year relating to workplace bullying and this number is rising. At the same time, recent weeks have seen huge media interest in the area of sexual harassment.

It is important for employers to review what measures they have in place to beat the workplace bully. Research suggests that many instances of bullying in the workplace are not taken seriously enough. This is also what is coming across in the accounts of women and men that have talked about their experience of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The type of behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment is clearly defined in the Equality Act 2010. There is no legal definition of what is considered to be an act of ‘bullying’ in UK legislation. This creates all sorts of difficulties, especially at management level. Without a consistent understanding, it can be very difficult to measure and manage the scale of a problem within an organisation.

Employment law provides individuals with a number of potential ways for bringing workplace bullying claims. Employers could find themselves defending claims of unfair constructive dismissal, discrimination (if the bullying amounts to conduct defined as harassment in the Equality Act 2010) or breach of contract due to the employer’s failure to protect an employee’s health and safety at work.

The starting point to ensuring your organisation is bullying or harassment free, is to ensure that you have a clear anti-harassment and bullying policy that states bullying and harassment will not be tolerated in the workplace and will be treated as a disciplinary offence. The policy statement should set out the types of behaviour that constitute bullying so that everyone understands this.

Whilst a policy can be helpful in setting out the standard of behaviour expected from employees, it won’t reduce the overall prevalence of bullying in the workplace by itself. Employers should consider alternative strategies for dealing with such behaviour.

Employers should take steps to empower employees to talk more openly with each other about the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Employees should also be made aware that they can make a complaint and if they do so, the complaint will be treated seriously.

Given the seriousness of bullying and harassment, we suggest you take a moment to consider whether you’re doing enough to support and protect your employees.