The short answer is yes. Harassment is both a criminal offence and a civil action under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. This means that someone can be prosecuted in the criminal courts if they harass another person. It also means action can be taken against that person in the civil courts.
As an employer or line manager, you may come across certain situations where you think harassment at work could amount to a crime.
The situation could, for example, be where an employee tells you they’ve been:
the victim of a hate crime, for example racist or homophobic abuse
threatened with violence
It’s important at this point to talk to your employee about whether they wish to report the incident to the police and in how you might support them if they wish to choose this route. No pressure should be applied to the employee in order to make them take any particular decision. If they do not wish to tell the police, it is their decision not to do so. It may also be relevant at this point to get specialist advice from a relevant charity or helpline and to consider getting legal advice.
In the majority of cases, you should go along with the employee’s decision if they do not wish to involve the policy, however, as an employer, you may decide you need to tell the police in particular circumstances. This might include if you or the employee think there’s likely to be:
an ongoing risk to their safety or the safety of others
an increased risk to their safety because they’re a vulnerable person, for example where they have a mental health condition
Before telling the police, you should talk with the person who’s made the complaint. You should also let them know once you’ve told the police.
If you’re not sure what to do, you should engage specialist and legal advice.
What if the harassment has been reported to the police, or is already going through a court process?
As an employer, it’s unlikely that you’ll have to wait for the criminal process to finish before you can:
investigate the complaint
carry out a workplace disciplinary procedure
However, you should check with the police before doing either of the above and consider getting legal advice, to make sure there is no risk of prejudicing the criminal process. Information should be freely given to the police if they request it.
Can employers take action where there is no criminal conviction?
If you wait for the criminal process to end and it does not result in a conviction, you may still be able to take disciplinary action. This is because the level of evidence needed to prove a crime is higher than for an employer’s disciplinary process to decide that a workplace disciplinary offence has been committed.
Specialist advice and other support services
If you’re dealing with a complaint that might be a crime, you should be able to get more help and information from:
For hate crime, you can get help and information from:
Stop Hate UK
Contacting the police
call 999 if you or someone else is in immediate danger
What to do after dealing with a bullying, harassment or discrimination complaint at work
As an employer or line manager, once you have an outcome for a complaint of bullying, harassment, discrimination or victimisation, it’s crucial you:
keep a record of the complaint, any investigation findings, any steps that were taken and the outcome
talk to the person who made the complaint
Updating the person who made the complaint
Communicate with the person who made the complaint on:
whether their complaint was ‘upheld’ (you decided there’s a case to answer) or not
what will happen next, if their complaint was upheld
If the complaint was upheld, this usually means you’ve decided there’s enough evidence to do one or both of the following:
recommend actions that need to be taken to resolve the complaint
follow up with a disciplinary procedure and consider disciplinary action if appropriate
Staying alert to the issue
As an employer or line manager, it’s important to make sure:
any unacceptable behaviour or treatment has stopped
nobody is treated unfairly because they made a complaint
nobody is treated unfairly because they supported someone else’s complaint
Keeping a record
For all complaints, employers need to keep a record of:
any evidence you’ve found
any steps you’ve taken to deal with it
whether the complaint was upheld or not, and the reasons why
how it was resolved, if it was possible
If the complaint was handled formally, it’s important to also keep a record of:
any investigation findings
the complaint hearing
any appeal, including details of the appeal hearing
whether the complaint resulted in a disciplinary procedure, and any disciplinary action taken
Records will be useful if:
the same or a similar issue comes up again
an issue raised informally is raised formally later on
an employee decides to make a claim to an employment tribunal
What if there is legal action?
An employee may be eligible to make a claim to an employment tribunal because they’ve been harassed, discriminated against or victimised. If this happens, the things an employment tribunal will look at can include:
how it has affected the employee
what you’ve done as the employer to address their complaint
how you’ve handled any similar situations in the past
If an employee makes a claim to an employment tribunal, it’s a good idea to get legal advice.
Preventing discrimination, bullying and harassment at work
After you’ve dealt with a complaint, it’s important to take time to reflect and look at ways to prevent bullying, harassment, discrimination and victimisation in the future.
Depending on your findings from looking into a complaint at work, you may decide to take steps to address any issue potential future issue.
These could include:
training line managers on a specific issue, for example sexual harassment or unconscious bias
training all employees on a specific issue and what to do if they experience or witness unacceptable behaviour
reviewing your internal policies and procedures, for example your policy on bullying and harassment
making it clear to employees what support is available if they experience or see unacceptable behaviour at work
For more information on how we can provide you with practical HR support on this, or any other HR issue, contact us on 07762 629448, or click here.
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