In recent years, movements such as #MeToo and #Blacklivesmatter (and others like them) have gained widespread attention around the world, leading to a rise in employers implementing policies and procedures to tackle inequality in the workplace. While the focus on harassment and equality still remains, more recently a spotlight has also been shone on the issue of toxic working cultures, with an increased emphasis being placed on tackling bullying in the workplace.
This has in part been driven by a number of high-profile bullying scandals in organisations across all sectors – media, politics, the arts, the professions, to name but a few. The charity sector has not been immune from accusations of bullying: over the summer, the domestic abuse charity Refuge was required to make a serious incident report to the Charity Commission regarding complaints of bullying and a “toxic” working culture; large names such as Oxfam and Save the Children have also been affected in the past.
The consequences of poor or inappropriate behaviour and harassment in the workplace for individual employees, the wider workforce and the reputation of the business are well known and have been documented in countless reports, surveys and research. Last summer, the Charity Commission also issued a press release emphasising that bullying and harassment must never be accepted in the charity sector and clarifying the respective responsibilities of trustees and the Commission in preventing and responding to incidents of bullying in charities.
The Charity Commission’s guidance – safeguarding and protecting people for charities and trustees – is clear that protecting people and safeguarding should be a governance priority for all charities, and this obligation is not only in respect of beneficiaries but also staff, volunteers and anyone else who comes into contact with the charity’s work. It states explicitly that charities should be alert to bullying and harassment (whether online or in person) and have an appropriate code of conduct to set out the expected standards of behaviour within the charity.
It is therefore essential that organisations take measures to tackle bullying in the workplace and that any allegations of bullying are taken seriously. To support charities with this, we have produced a mini-series on bullying, with a particular focus on how to carry out a proper investigation into bullying allegations:
Part one: what is bullying?
We start our mini-series on bullying by examining what amounts to bullying in the workplace. This isn’t necessarily a straightforward question, given that there is no legal definition for bullying. It is nevertheless important for any fair investigation into alleged bullying to be clear as to what definition of bullying is being applied.
Part two: dealing with conflicting evidence in workplace investigations
In this second part of our series focusing on bullying, we consider the difficulties of making factual findings in an investigation into bullying, particularly when the allegations are highly subjective (which is often the case) and feel more like a question of perception than facts to be found.
Part three: supporting the employee accused of bullying
In the final blog in our mini-series we look at the employee who has been accused of bullying and in particular what meaningful and appropriate support an employer can and should provide to them.
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, September 2023