Bullying, Discrimination And Harassment: Recognising Them and Knowing the Difference

Whatever the nature of your business and whatever path you should choose for your career, it’s likely that you’re peripherally aware of your worker’s rights. Workers have the right to do their job in a place of safety and comfort without. They are expected to behave professionally and with decency and not victimise others who are different to themselves and should expect the same of their colleagues, bosses and employers. While most employers know that they are legally protected against discrimination, it can muddy the waters when they’re unsure what constitutes bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Moreover, many people are unaware what they should do if they find themselves (Heaven forbid) subject to these inappropriate and potentially illegal behaviours.

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This uncertainty can cause employees to raise grievances against colleagues that fail to conform to the defined parameters of bullying, harassment and discrimination or (worse still), let inexcusable behaviour from bosses and colleagues go unchallenged.

Defining discrimination

Employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees on the grounds of their gender, gender identity, age, skin colour, religion or sexual orientation. Many of us are aware of that but what might discrimination upon these grounds look like in real terms? Employers are not legally allowed to choose who they hire based on the grounds of any of the above. A colleague of mine once attended an interview in which the interviewer asked her if she had any plans to have children, as it would have a sizeable impact over whether or not she would get the job. She correctly asserted that they should not have asked that question as it demonstrates clear discrimination on the basis of her gender. She (quite rightly) walked out there and then. Needless to say your employer is not allowed to dismiss you on this basis either. If you feel that you have been let go unfairly or in a discriminatory manner you must seek legal advice against this unfair dismissal. Aside from hiring and firing, there are many other types of discrimination that could occur in the workplace.

Discriminating against particular employees when assigning holiday leave, sick leave or maternity leave, restricting use of company facilities or denying certain employees compensations or benefits are also egregious forms of discrimination.

The difference between harassment and bullying

In real terms harassment and bullying look much the same. Both involve inappropriate and / or aggressive behaviour towards an employee. Both involve unwanted or unwarranted conduct, and both lead to an employee feeling victimised at work. Legally speaking, however, there is a difference. Harassment, in its strictest legal definition, is linked to the protected characteristics of the employee (i.e. race, gender, religion etc.). Therefore if a colleague is openly sexist or racist towards you this is within the legal parameters of harassment.

Bullying, however, has no such legal definition. Though it is chiefly defined as aggressive or malicious behaviour, bullying has no presence within the statute books, but this does not mean that employees who experience bullying are without recourse.

Duty of care

Employees have a duty of care towards their employees and bullying, even if it falls outside of the strict parameters of harassment, clearly contravenes this duty of care. Thus, your employer should have an infrastructure in place to ensure that you can raise a grievance against any other employee (whatever their position or status) without the risk of reprisals from the organisation or any particular individual.

*This post is contributed to Spicy Scribbler Blog