Publish date

13 July 2021

How best to tackle bullying and harassment in the workplace as employees return to the office?

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement, the work-from-home advice has officially been lifted from July 19th. This means that businesses can finally begin to regain some sense of normality with more workers returning to the workplace. That being said, many businesses are developing hybrid plans in which people work from home some days and in the office on other days. But regardless of exact working practices going forward, all employers will be wanting a smooth transition for all their returning employees. However, one threat to this is workplace bullying.

Bullying and harassment remain significant workplace issues despite a growing awareness of the problem. Furthermore, these issues have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with studies showing that Covid-19 sufferers, the unvaccinated and furloughed workers suffered from discriminatory behaviours and stigma. In this article we discuss these issues and the practices that you can implement in order to ease any anxieties an employee has in relation to them.

Studies by the British Medical Journal have shown that people perceived as suspected to have, diagnosed with or having previously had the virus were more likely to experience workplace bullying. This includes ‘long-covid’ sufferers, whose condition is viewed as an ongoing concern rather than one of the past. Equally, those who refuse the vaccination, be it for religious beliefs or personal views, were more likely to be shunned by colleagues and viewed with suspicion according to a study by Unison trade union. A similar phenomena is seen with furloughed workers or part-time workers, who were more generally viewed as less important than fully working colleagues or their productivity and drive unreasonably questioned according to research by King’s College London.

Remember many of these issues would have remained largely under the surface whilst employees were working from home and having minimal contact with each other. However, a return to the workplace will reunite a large group of people impacted differently by the pandemic and this can lead to cases of bullying.

As an employer, it is important that you are aware of these issues and are on hand to support your employees who experience bullying or harassment. This includes the more obvious health and safety and anti-discrimination measures, but also more subtle processes that will help everyone feel comfortable and supported.

Some tell-tale signs of bullying include:

  • An employee’s job performance deteriorating for no apparent reason;
  • A gregarious employee becoming withdrawn;
  • An employee calling in sick regularly;
  • An employee consistently sitting each from another employee during meetings.

It is worth noting that these apply to a variety of matters and are not limited to the issues discussed above. Bullying can occur as part of unlawful discrimination, such as where it relates to the victim’s race, age, sex, disability, religion or other ‘protected characteristic’, but it could also be unrelated.

Some safeguards and measures include:

  • A robust anti-harassment or bullying policy;
  • A confidential reporting system;
  • Employee training on issues of bullying;
  • Staff engagement including surveys.

As always, it is important that you take any incident of bullying seriously and consider taking expert legal advice. Please get in touch if you need advice on any element of workplace bullying.

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