Workplace harassment: A duty of care
Workplace harassment is not only unacceptable on moral grounds but, if not addressed or badly handled, can create serious issues for your business, including poor morale, resignations, absences and damage to the business’ reputation.
It is important for employers to understand what constitutes harassment at work, how best to prevent it and how best to deal with it, should a complaint be made.Employer’s liability
An employer is responsible for the acts of all employees, and has a duty of care while they are at work.Therefore, a victim of harassment can bring a claim in the employment tribunal against both the offending colleague and the business for failing to prevent the harassment.
Employers may be held liable for the conduct of employees, including conduct which occurs outside ordinary working hours such as at work-related events such as a works party.Minimising the risks
An employer will not be liable for harassment by one of its employees if it shows that it took all reasonable steps to prevent this from happening.To minimise risk, employers should implement and enforce a policy setting out the business’ approach to dealing with workplace harassment, including for example:
- a non-exhaustive list of unacceptable behaviours
- prevention measures
- reporting channels
- investigation and disciplinary procedures
To instil and retain employees’ confidence and trust, it is imperative that employers take all complaints seriously, conducting full and impartial investigations into any allegations. If an employer concludes that harassment has taken place, it must ensure that the disciplinary action taken against the perpetrator is reasonable and proportionate to the circumstances.