Many forms of behaviour can constitute harassment or bullying, but most significantly, the behaviour is unwanted by the recipient. The behaviour may be deliberate or just misplaced. It may be a course of action or just one event. It can range from violence or assault to less obvious actions such as ignoring someone at work. The following, although not an exhaustive list may all constitute behaviour at work that is harassment or bullying:
Harassment and bullying behaviour in the workplace is offensive and threatening. It can affect an officer’s professional performance and psychological welfare, and can be so destructive that the effects continue after work, devastating personal lives as well as careers. Harassment and bullying can result in low morale, increased sickness absence, requests for transfer or resignations. If a complaint is made to an Employment Tribunal, or civil proceedings taken to court, a Force may also suffer expensive litigation, adverse publicity and a loss of public confidence. It is in everyone’s best interests to have a workplace free of harassment and bullying.
Harassment and bullying are unpleasant and offensive, but are only actionable under the law in certain limited circumstances. The Chief Officer may be liable for unlawful harassment of officers by other officers or staff under his or her direction and control, or by third parties over whom he or she has no control. However, there is a defence available to the Chief Officer if he/she can show that he/she took all reasonable steps to prevent the person from doing the discriminatory act. An officer may be personally liable for unlawful acts committed in the course of his/her employment.
There are several types of unlawful harassment defined under the Equality Act 2010.
Harassment can also constitute direct discrimination. In order to claim direct discrimination a person would need to show that he or she has been treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic, namely, age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. This type of discrimination cannot be justified.
Another type of unlawful harassment is harassment by third parties, such as customers or clients, over whom the employer does not have direct control. Liability in relation to third party harassment arises when harassment has occurred on a least two previous occasions, the employer is aware that it has taken place, and has not taken reasonable steps to prevent it happening again.
The discrimination legislation provides protection from victimisation when someone has brought proceedings under the discrimination legislation, given evidence or information or anything else in relation to their or another’s discrimination proceedings, or made an allegation of discrimination. Victimisation does not cover a person giving false evidence or information or making false allegations if the information or allegations or evidence are made in bad faith. Police Officers may also be protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act (whistle blowing) should they raise a complaint.
Bullying is not a specific offence under any statute but it may be possible to take action under the Health and Safety legislation if it can be shown that the Force did not provide a workplace environment having due regard to the health, welfare or safety of the officer. In circumstances where it can be shown that the treatment resulted in the officer suffering a physical or psychological injury, it may be possible to take a personal injury claim. In the more extreme cases, the Protection from Harassment Act 1996, and/or s154 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (intentional harassment) may provide legal remedies depending on the circumstances.
The time limit for lodging a claim is dependent upon the legislation that it is alleged to have been breached. A personal injury claim must be presented to the County Court or High Court within 3 years less 1 day of the alleged unlawful act(s). Discrimination claims must be presented to an Employment Tribunal within 3 calendar months less 1 day from the date of the last alleged act of discrimination. A Protection from Harassment Act claim must be presented to the County Court or High Court within 6 years less 1 day of the acts of harassment..
The Police Federation will take your complaint seriously, treat it confidentially and help you to resolve the matter. You can discuss your options with any Federation Representative and, if necessary, they can help you to:
Further information on representation is available in the Police Federation Equality and Diversity Representation Advice leaflet.