Introduction to this document

Dignity at work policy

You’re not legally obliged to put in place a dignity at work policy. However, harassment on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation are all unlawful and implementing a dignity at work policy statement will help demonstrate that you took reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring.

Unlawful harassment

Under the Equality Act 2010 it’s unlawful to harass an employee because of age, disability, gender reassignment, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. A person generally harasses another person under the Act if they engage in unwanted conduct related to one of these protected characteristics, and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating the other person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that other person. You will be vicariously liable for any acts of unlawful harassment committed by your employees against other employees in the course of their employment unless you can show you took all reasonable steps to prevent those acts from occurring. As there’s no limit on the amount of compensation an employee can receive for unlawful harassment, and it can include compensation for injury to feelings, it’s important that you take dignity at work seriously. Putting in place our Dignity at Work Policy statement - and ensuring you follow its terms and give regular training to your staff and managers on their rights and obligations relating to preserving employees’ dignity - means that not only is it likely to assist in reducing the risk of unlawful harassment occurring in the first place, but also you have a much greater chance of being able to successfully rely on the statutory “reasonable steps” defence. Be aware that just having a policy statement won’t be enough - it’s essential that the policy is disseminated to all staff and that they are given appropriate training to support the policy.

Protection from harassment

Not all harassment will be unlawful under the discrimination legislation. Employees could be bullied by their colleagues for reasons unrelated to their sex, race, etc. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 provides a civil remedy for those subjected to a course of conduct, i.e. two or more incidents, amounting to harassment, and which the harasser knew or ought to have known amounted to harassment, either at work or outside work. It’s also a criminal offence. Again, you can be vicariously liable under the Act for the actions of your employees and here there’s no “reasonable steps” defence that you can rely on, so never turn a blind eye to what’s going on in your workplace and always try to eliminate bullying and harassment on any ground.