The most important thing is that you actually do something rather than ignore the issue and hope it goes away. Allegations of bullying behaviour can come in all forms and are by no means unresolvable. Sometimes one person’s perception of bullying is another person’s perception of efficient management or humour. The first thing an employer should do upon hearing a complaint of bullying is establish whether the complainant wishes to raise a formal grievance.
How do I deal with it as a grievance?
If the employee wishes to raise a formal grievance, your first port of call should be your company’s grievance procedure. Every employer must have a grievance procedure, as it is a requirement of section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 for an employee to be notified where they can find the disciplinary and grievance procedures.
Will any other procedures be relevant?
It is likely that an Anti-Bullying and Anti-Harassment procedure will be relevant if your business has one in place. Depending on the nature of the complaint, the Equal Opportunities Policy may also be worth consulting if the grievance relates to bullying on a discriminatory ground such as race, sex, sexual orientation, etc. The Whistleblowing Policy might apply where somebody is complaining of being bullied as a result of having made a protected disclosure under that policy.
What if the employee does not wish to raise a formal grievance or formal complaint?
You have still been made aware of the alleged conduct, so should ensure that a close eye is kept on the person complained of to ensure that they are not actively bullying any other members of staff. You should also consider whether the complainant may be afraid to raise a formal grievance out of fear. For example, somebody might be afraid to raise a formal grievance about bullying by their manager if they think their manager will then bully them all the more for having raised a grievance. If they are clearly distressed, support should be offered.
What if my investigation finds that bullying seems to have occurred?
If an employee’s grievance over bullying by a colleague is upheld, this will usually result in disciplinary proceedings being brought against the perpetrator. It is still important to make sure that a fair disciplinary process is followed and that the accused employee is allowed to put forward their version of events.
Sometimes actions of bullying can be so serious as to amount to gross misconduct, which can lead to summary dismissal.
What if it is one person’s word against another’s?
The burden of proof in determining a grievance or a disciplinary matter is “the balance of probabilities”. In other words, it has to be more likely than not that what is being alleged did take place. To reach this conclusion, an employer must have some evidence on which they can rely to justify finding that an allegation is proven. Sometimes grievances are not upheld, not because the complainant is believed to be a liar, but because it is not possible to prove one way or the other whose version of events is correct.