Bullying and Harassment

by Andrew Wood

Handling allegations

Your organisation will usually have a bullying and harassment policy in place and the process you should follow when handling a complaint will be outlined there. However, the following provides you with some basic guidelines when dealing with cases of bullying and harassment. Please note that this guidance should not replace or take precedence over your official organisational policy, which should be followed in all cases.

Investigate immediately

Time is critical in harassment cases and all instances should be addressed as soon as the complainant has raised the issue. By the time someone complains, it is likely that the alleged bullying or harassment has gone on for some time and has reached a point where the complainant feels they have run out of options. There is no benefit in hoping that the situation will ‘blow over’.

Take the complaint seriously

Employees are unlikely to complain unless they feel they have no other options. A response from you that is deemed unreasonable or dismissive will exacerbate the situation and is likely to cause issues further down the line.

Be objective and independent

Irrespective of the feelings you have for those involved in the case, it is important that you remain objective and independent of the situation at all times. Although this is sometimes difficult, you must ensure that your own feelings and opinions do not enter into the equation. All parties involved will be looking for support from you; it is therefore imperative that you remain professional throughout the process. If you are seen to imply favouritism, the consequences could be damaging.

Attempt to resolve informally

Informal resolution of harassment and bullying cases can be the least damaging for all involved. Often, the person that carries out the harassment or bullying is unaware of the affect their behaviour is having on the individual concerned. Wherever possible, it is best to rectify these matters without damaging the reputation of all involved. Sometimes the complainant will be happy to approach the person/s themselves or they may need support from others, in other words, from their manager, a colleague or HR. As a manager, this is where Mediation skills can prove invaluable.

Ensure confidentiality

As a general principle, confidentiality should be agreed and maintained. In some instances, it will be necessary to involve others in the discussions in order to progress a complaint. However, it should be for the complainant to decide whether to involve anyone else.

In cases of this nature, hearsay and gossip tend to arise. It is important that you remain impartial and act as the soul of discretion. Any other type of behaviour can result in legal implications for you.

Follow organisation policies and guidelines

Most organisations will have guidelines and policies for disciplinary, grievance, bullying or harassment cases. These guidelines will have been drafted carefully, with the specific interests of the organisation and its employees in mind, so it is crucial that you follow them.

Key point

Don’t be reluctant to seek help if you are unsure of the procedures or need advice.