Workplace harassment is front and centre on many employers’ agendas. Widely publicised allegations over recent months, and a shift in the public mood on the systemic issues that have been highlighted, have now also been given global prominence through social media campaigns such as #MeToo and TimesUp.

While the ground may be shifting more slowly across the UK in various traditional business sectors, nowhere is the issue of workplace harassment more prevalent than in the screen and theatre industries. Large casual and freelance workforces, coupled with long hours, stressful deadlines, shifting teams and variable workplaces across studios, on-set and on-location, have led to unwelcome outcomes as well as uncertainty on the part of some organisations on what their obligations are to individuals and how to respond.

This Law-Now explores the recently published BFI principles on workplace harassment, which will affect how businesses in this sector prevent and respond to concerns and complaints of bullying and harassment.

What has been published?

Hot off the heels of Anti-Harassment Guidelines published in January 2018 by the Producers Guild of America (PGA), the BFI in conjunction with BAFTA has published a short set of Principles and accompanying Guidance on tackling harassment and bullying in the screen industries.

The Principles cover the following:

  1. Everyone is responsible for creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace that is positive and supportive.
  2. Recognition that harassment may be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
  3. Employers accept their responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
  4. No tolerance for bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, and processes will be put in place for reporting and investigation of these serious issues.
  5. Recognition that bullying and harassment can have significant advice impacts on productivity, health and well-being of people affected and working to eradicate it. Adequate protections will be put in place and appropriate actions will be taken against those found to have bullied or harassed.
  6. Recognition of the value of inclusivity and difference, learning from others and considering people without prejudice or favour. Relationships will be built on mutual respect and feedback given constructively.
  7. Recognition that reporting bullying and harassment can be intimidating. Confidentiality will be respected where possible and the process of reporting should be clear and straightforward. Investigations will be undertaken objectively and individuals who come forward will not suffer reprisal or victimisation.
  8. Respect for each other’s dignity, regardless of seniority of role in an organisation.

Whist in many respects the above seem common sense, BFI and BAFTA are seeking to set the tone of behaviour within this industry and aim to prevent behaviour that causes harm or detriment to individuals and, where prevention has not been possible, limit organisations’ exposure to legal action.

Who is covered?

These Principles cover all employers, employees, officers, workers, agency workers, trainees volunteers, trustees and freelancers.

What does it mean for my business?

It will become a condition of receipt of BFI funding or association with the BFI and certain named organisations (such as BAFTA, BBC Films, Film4, Motion Picture Association, UK Screen Alliance and many others) that the funded business signs up to the Principles and adopts a zero tolerance approach to breaches of them. The Principles will become embedded in the BFI’s Diversity Standards.

In addition, all contracts with employers, employees, officers, workers, agency workers, trainees volunteers, trustees and freelancers should include provisions covering the following:

  • The individual shall comply with the Principles (as amended from time to time)
  • Breaches of the Principles may lead to disciplinary action and/or termination of the contract
  • Individuals should familiarise themselves with the Principles and the Guidance and act in accordance with the information and advice.

The accompanying Guidance sets out practical advice for employers as well as individuals who may experience or witness inappropriate conduct. It includes a helpful section on duties and responsibilities of managers, heads of departments and team leaders, which sets out expectations for facilitating a positive workplace and responding to concerns appropriately. “Top tips” include knowledge of individuals’ personal responsibilities, ensuring policies are written and up to date, ensuring a clear process and clear accountability for investigating complaints and promoting the principles and processes. It also cautions against remaining a bystander where inappropriate conduct is witnessed but no action taken. Finally, it recommends training to gain confidence in challenging and tackling inappropriate behaviour.

Our previous Law-Now on Tackling Workplace Harassment also sets out our recommended five key steps for employers to consider and includes guidance on creating positive messages and taking proactive steps to try to prevent legal issues arising.

What do businesses need to do?

If your business operates in the screen industries and is likely to be covered by the BFI Principles, ensure that these are adopted within your employment practices. Even if you are not specifically covered, these guidelines provide a more-than-sensible approach to managing internal practices. You can start by auditing your internal practices as follows:

  • Revisit internal policies and procedures – update and refine as necessary
  • Review and update employment contracts as well as agreements with freelancers, agencies and other casual workers
  • Consider employee relations and staff communications – how will you ensure a zero tolerance approach is adopted by everyone
  • Consider your existing and future training needs