This briefing gives information about tuberculosis (TB) and steps to be taken when cases arise in schools among students or teachers.
What is harassment?
Under the Equality Act 2010, harassment in relation to ‘protected characteristics’ is unlawful, and employees can take a case to an employment tribunal if they experience harassment in the workplace which hasn’t been resolved by their employer.
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’ covered by the Equality Act are: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. There are a variety of reasons why a person may be subjected to harassment including class, cultural or language differences, and membership or non-membership of a trade union, but only the protected characteristics are covered by the Equality Act.
Harassment can cause a person to feel threatened, humiliated or patronised. Such behaviour can interfere with the person's work performance, undermine job security and create a threatening or intimidating working or learning environment.
Whether harassment is intentional or unintentional, the key feature is its effect on the person rather than the motive of the perpetrator.
Harassment can take many forms. These include:
- the display or distribution of offensive material, graffiti or badges
- non-verbal abuse such as offensive gestures and body language
- inappropriate comments about someone's appearance
- intrusive questioning about someone's private life
- verbal abuse such as suggestive remarks, ‘jokes’ and name calling
- physical contact such as unnecessary touching
- threatened or actual physical abuse or attack.
In extreme cases, such as stalking, assault, rape, incitement to racial hatred or homophobic hate crime, harassment may constitute a serious criminal offence.
Freedom of expression may sometimes be used as a defence to allegations of harassment. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right and employers should recognise that workers have the right to express their religious, political and philosophical beliefs in the workplace within limits. Freedom of expression can never be used as justification for making statements/comments which discriminate against or harass, or incite violence or hatred against other people or groups, particularly by reference to their protected characteristics.
Employers may seek to prevent or ameliorate conflict in the workplace by adopting a code of conduct which includes how workers should approach the discussion of religious, political and philosophical beliefs at work. This could include:
- outlining the importance of treating colleagues with respect
- an expectation for employees to behave in line with the values of the organisation
- examples of when it might not be considered appropriate to discuss personal views with colleagues
- advice on how much a worker might share about their personal views, being particularly careful of any power imbalance, eg between a newly qualified teacher (NQT) and a member of the school leadership team (SLT).
What is bullying?
Bullying is a form of indiscriminate harassment in which the alleged bully undermines and belittles or assaults the recipient. Bullies may seek to exploit others' perceived personal weaknesses, either because they enjoy the exercise of such power or because they are under pressure themselves, or even because they believe such behaviour is the best means of managing relationships.
Common examples of bullying by colleagues or senior managers include allocating additional workload, withholding work responsibility, changing priorities and objectives unreasonably, imposing impractical deadlines, excessive and unreasonable supervision or lesson observation, or unjustified invoking of disciplinary or capability procedures. Bullying may also involve abuse and criticism in front of colleagues and pupils.
Some bullies, particularly those in senior management roles, behave the way they do because of the intolerable pressure placed on them from outside the school, for example from Government policies or Ofsted or its Welsh equivalent, Estyn. This type of bullying is, in many cases, easier to deal with than that of the deliberate bully who believes that a bullying management style is the best way of achieving objectives. Both types of bullying are, however, equally damaging for the recipient and neither can ever be justified.
The common feature of the different forms of behaviour which constitute harassment and bullying is that it is behaviour unwanted by the recipient. It is important, however, to distinguish between reasonable management instructions, even those which may be unwelcome, and bullying.
It is also important to note that misunderstandings between colleagues do sometimes occur which can lead to a perception that bullying is taking place. In some of these cases, it will be possible to resolve the issue through informal discussion between the two parties.
Where there is uncertainty as to whether a member is being bullied, the NEU harassment and bullying questionnaire can be used. It is available at the end of this document. It may help clarify whether the member is experiencing bullying behaviour. The survey can also be distributed throughout a workplace, to establish if there is a more widespread bullying problem, which would be best tackled collectively.
NEU's workplace harassment and bullying policies
The NEU takes harassment and bullying at work very seriously both as an equality and health and safety issue for staff and pupils. Indeed, the NEU’s code of professional conduct for members deems it to be unprofessional conduct: “Members should not discriminate against, harass, or make any discriminatory or offensive remarks against others, including in particular, colleagues and pupils, on grounds of race, nationality, colour, ethnic or national origin, disability, gender, sex, marital status, trans-gender status, sexual orientation, or religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief; and further, members should not harass, discriminate or make discriminatory remarks against others on grounds of age, class, caring responsibilities or other status or personal characteristic in circumstances in which such discrimination may objectively be considered unfair.”
Bullying is a form of indiscriminate harassment, not necessarily linked to any of the above factors, but equally unacceptable. This document will be of value to school representatives, safety representatives and local officers. Harassment and bullying of school staff can be tackled effectively with NEU support and solidarity among staff. A strong NEU presence in schools, together with co-operation between unions, is the key to securing a supportive and non-threatening working environment.
The NEU believes employers should develop policies and procedures, in consultation with unions, to deal with harassment and bullying of staff by colleagues, managers, pupils and parents.
It believes workplace harassment and bullying policies should:
- prohibit harassment and bullying
- contain clear definitions of what constitutes harassment and bullying
- explain how issues can be raised by individual employees and what will happen
- encourage reporting of all incidents and make staff aware of their entitlements and rights
- set out the responsibility of managers and employers to address the issue
- explain what support is available to staff who feel they are being harassed or bullied
- make links where appropriate to whole-school policies on equality.
The union has prepared a model harassment and bullying policy with an accompanying checklist to assist in negotiations and to ascertain if an employer’s policy is acceptable.
How employers can deal with all allegations of harassment and bullying
The first step in tackling harassment is to make it clear to the alleged harasser that the behaviour is unacceptable. The member may find it difficult to challenge the person concerned and may wish to be accompanied by an NEU representative. If the member is an NQT they may wish to seek advice from their mentor, provided that they are not the alleged bully.
If the member feels unable to speak in person to the individual concerned, then the request to desist may be put in writing. The ideal outcome at this stage is for the allegedly unacceptable behaviour to stop so that the member’s workplace can become secure and non-threatening. If the alleged bully is unwittingly behaving in an unacceptable way, as a result of being under pressure themselves, then this informal approach can be extremely successful in changing behaviour.
Where bullying or harassment in a school is thought to be widespread, for example within a department run by senior management, workplace representatives should seek advice from the NEU Adviceline in England, NEU Cymru or NEU Northern Ireland. It is possible that such cases of bullying will be best dealt with as a collective matter.
In cases involving violence, or fear of violence, employers should act quickly. All schools and employers should have effective procedures for dealing with violence. In criminal cases the employer should involve the police. Alternatively the employer should consider civil proceedings to obtain an injunction to restrain the perpetrator/s.
The Equality Act offers protection to staff from unlawful harassment in the workplace, (when it is in relation to the protected characteristics). There is no parallel legislation offering specific protection from workplace bullying but the Human Rights Act prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment which may cover indiscriminate bullying. Employers have statutory and common law duties to protect employees from mental and physical injury at work.
Harassment based on age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. If a person is experiencing unlawful harassment and they have tried to get it resolved by their employer, but this has not bought about a resolution, they might be advised to take their claim to an employment tribunal. Strict time limits apply. A claim to a tribunal about harassment must be lodged within three months of the last act of harassment taking place.
To protect any award of compensation, a complaint to a tribunal of unlawful harassment should be preceded by a written grievance.
It is important to be aware, that since April 2014, any employee wishing to make a claim via an employment tribunal must notify the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) of their intention. Acas will attempt to resolve the issues via ‘early conciliation’; if this fails, they will issue a certificate which is required in order to progress a claim through an employment tribunal.
Employers may be liable for the distress and financial loss caused by the actions of employees who harass others and should take all reasonable steps to avoid and prevent harassment from occurring. Victimisation, in the form of retaliation by the harasser to complaints made, may also amount to unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act.
Under health and safety legislation, an employer is under a duty to provide a safe system of work for employees and to take reasonable steps to prevent staff from being injured at work. Such injury can include physical or mental ill health, including depression or anxiety resulting from harassment or bullying at school. This legal duty of care is an incentive for an employer to act to prevent harassment or bullying occurring.
Employer equality policies
If schools are to reduce levels of all forms of harassment and bullying, explicit strategies are necessary. Equality policies should be consistent with the harassment and bullying policy and make it clear that harassment in relation to one or more protected characteristic, or harassment and bullying in any other form, will not be tolerated. They should explicitly refer to strategies to prevent such incidents and to how the employer will meet their legal duties. The NEU advises that equality policies should state that the school will take action to protect all staff from all forms of harassment.
The role of occupational health services
Some employers operate confidential self-referral systems which allow staff to receive support and counselling which may, in turn, give them the confidence to contact their union and begin to address the alleged bullying to which they have been subjected.
Such systems can also act as an alert to the employer that there may be a widespread problem with bullying in a particular school.
The role of school safety committees
Strengthening NEU organisation at school level helps members and NEU representatives/safety representatives deal more effectively with health and safety concerns, including harassment and bullying. Bullying can be defeated and solidarity among staff is the best way of putting in place procedures to prevent bullying.
School safety committees provide an effective forum to monitor the measures taken by schools to address health and safety problems in schools, including harassment and bullying. They can also do much to promote a climate in which harassment and bullying is not tolerated. Where members are concerned at levels of bullying in their workplace, they can raise the issue collectively via one of the union representatives on the committee. Issues can then be resolved either through the introduction and implementation of agreed policies or, where such procedures already exist, by seeking to ensure that they are adhered to. School safety committees are not however, a means through which individuals, who have alleged that they have been bullied, seek redress. They are, rather, a collective means of preventing bullying.
Research has shown that in workplaces with joint safety committees, injury and ill health rates are 50 per cent lower than in workplaces with no such arrangements. School-based safety committees do, therefore, have an important role to play in creating and maintaining a safe and healthy work environment that is free from harassment and bullying.
Employers are required to establish a safety committee under regulation 9 of the Safety Committees Regulations 1977 if this is requested in writing by at least two safety representatives of a recognised trade union. The request could, therefore, come from the NEU safety representative and the safety representative of another teaching union or of a support staff union. The employer then has three months in which to establish the committee. The composition of the committee is subject to local negotiation. However, there should not be more management than union representatives. School-based safety committees can play an important role in terms of feeding particular concerns into employer safety committees.