By Claire Rolston, Solicitor, Director, CLR Law
Uber has made the headlines again, this time in relation to reports that it has dismissed 20 staff following an investigation into allegations of harassment.
What is harassment?
In the employment context, harassment has a specific legal definition.
The Equality Act 2010 defines harassment as unwanted conduct, related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.
The protected characteristics are:
marriage and civil partnership;
pregnancy and maternity;
religion or belief;
Race includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins.
There is no specific employment legislation dealing with unwanted behaviour that is not related to a protected characteristic (although employees can bring claims under the Protection From Harassment Act 1997 where it applies).
That is not to say that there are no consequences of bullying where there is not a discriminatory element. Bullying can impact on morale, performance and attendance. It could also lead to successful unfair constructive dismissal claims being brought if the employee resigns.
How to avoid the risk of a claim
have in place up-to-date policies dealing with harassment and bullying and a clear procedure as to what to do when an allegation is raised;
ensure the disciplinary policy makes it clear that such behaviour will constitute gross misconduct;
ensure the policies are accessible and brought to the attention of employees, particularly during induction and any updates should be clearly communicated;
ensure that their employees receive regular training on the policies and procedures;
keep records of the training and the employees who have attended; and
implement and follow the policies when an allegation is raised.
Above all, take advice. As well as there being a risk of claims, and the financial and reputational cost that brings, you could also risk losing talented employees.