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Bullying, harassment, and work-related violence

The workplace should not be a setting where people are subjected to threats of or actual violence, harassment or bullying. This sort of behaviour is unacceptable, but unfortunately too many people are exposed to these risks as part of their work. It breaches ethical standards, as well as affecting the physical and psychological health of those affected.

Employers have a legal duty to protect the health and safety of all their workers and are responsible for identifying and managing the risk of harassment and violence at work. Failure to deal with and take reasonable steps to prevent harassment and violence may undermine business performance as well as being unlawful.

Whilst the responsibility for determining the appropriate measures to prevent and deal with harassment and violence in the workplace rests with the employer, workers also play an important role in identifying and reporting incidents. Employers should involve workers – and where recognised, trade unions – in establishing procedures to deal with harassment and violence.

Employers must:

  • Ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their workers;

  • Assess the risks to their workers (including the risk of reasonably foreseeable violence), and decide how significant these risks are,

  • Decide what to do to prevent or control the risks, and develop a clear management plan to achieve this;

  • Establish clear grievance and disciplinary procedures consistent with the ACAS code of practice;

  • Consult with the workforce and their representatives about risk assessments and actions arising from them;

  • Ensure that everyone is aware of their harassment and violence policy and their responsibilities in relation to it.

Employers should provide clear policies in relation to harassment and violence, detailing their own responsibilities, as well as those of their workforce, to raise awareness of related issues among the workforce, and set standards for workplace behaviour. In larger organisations, these policies will normally be formalised to ensure consistency and fairness of application. In smaller organisations these policies may be less formalised, but in any case workers should still be aware of the behaviour expected of them and the options available to them should they feel they have been victim of violence and/or harassment.

The HSE encourages employers to manage work-related violence in the same way as any other health and safety issue. To help employers do this the HSE has published free general guidance, Violence at work: A guide for employers, which gives practical advice on how to find out if violence to staff is a problem, and how to tackle it. The guidance sets out four simple steps to the effective management of work-related violence - Find out if you have a problem: Decide what action to take; Take action; Review action. This guidance also includes further details on what the law requires.

If you or your organisation need any help in tacking bulling, harassment or work-related violence please do not hesitate to contact us here.

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