Expert view: five facts you need to know about harassment in the workplace

15 February 2018 -

WorkplaceharassmentHere are the steps managers can take to tackle workplace harassment

Christine Pratt

In 2007, I started to receive calls to the National Bullying Helpline that referenced bullying and harassment in central government. All of our callers are assured confidentiality but in 2010 I spoke out when the government denied it knew such problems existed. Eight years on, allegations of bullying are still being made in Westminster and beyond.

An employer who is in denial is a pet hate of mine. Managers should not deny that bullying or harassment is occurring because it will make those who are genuinely aggrieved feel less able to speak out. Everyone has the right to work in a safe and stress-free environment.

Organisations need to communicate policies and procedures that address inappropriate behaviour in the workplace: managers who are appointed to senior positions often have experience in their field of expertise but need training in how to address personnel issues correctly.

In the wake of the Presidents Club scandal, attention is on sexual harassment as never before. According to CMI's latest research Blueprint for Balance: time to fix the broken windowsdiscrimination is all too common across the workplaceHere are the five areas where, in my experience, managers can make a real difference and help to eliminate harassment in the office.

Common sense

As a manager, you should know what’s right and wrong. We are all at risk from bullying and harassment: more men call the National Bullying Helpline than ever before.

Line managers should monitor both staff turnover and sickness absences, and carry out back-to-work interviews. A change to those stats highlights where there are leadership weaknesses or issues, flagging up areas of risk in the business.

If you suspect bullying or harassment in your team, organise a diversity workshop. People should also sign to say they’ve had a copy of the company’s anti-bullying policy; this protects the organisation.

Informal discussions

When issues are raised informally by an employee, they should be documented. Managers should confirm the details of any conversations in a follow-up email. Employees have a right to see any formal or informal complaints about them.

External investigators

Many organisations have gone out of business when matters have escalated to tribunal level. By using a third party, employers can prove they’ve used an open and transparent process.


Managers should suspend employees, regardless of level, where there is strong evidence or a formal allegation of harassment or bullying. In one recent case, a group of men ignored a verbal and written warning to cease sexually inappropriate comments towards a woman. At that point, we recommended they be suspended. Anyone who behaves in that way is a threat to the organisation.


While the Acas Code of Practice (for workplace behaviour) should apply in all companies, managers need to reinforce any policies already in place in their organisation and ensure managers feel able to support their teams.

Christine Pratt FCMI is the founder of the National Bullying Helpline and director at HR & Diversity Management

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