1st June 2022

Prevention is Better Than Cure: Tackling Violence and Harassment in the Workplace

Most employers will understand, if not recognise, what workplace violence and harassment is, and how these issues should be dealt with when they come to their attention. It would be unusual for an employer not to have, for example, an Anti-Harassment and Bullying Policy that sets out: unacceptable behaviour; a procedure for dealing with complaints; and sanctions.  However, what employers often do not have are strategies to implement measures to prevent and combat violence and harassment or effective (if any) tools, guidance and education and training in place. 

Convention on Violence and Harassment

On 7 March 2023, the Internal Labour Organisation’s Convention on Violence and Harassment (the “Convention”) will come into force after its ratification by the UK Government earlier this year. The Convention recognises that everyone has a right to work without fear of, or being subjected to, violence and harassment. Unlike the Equality Act 2010 (the “EqA 2010”) which prohibits discrimination, victimisation and harassment on the grounds of protected characteristics, the Convention requires the Government to ensure that its domestic laws place positive obligations on employers to take steps to prevent and eliminate violence and harassment in the workplace. These steps extend beyond simply ensuring policies are in place and include implementing measures to: prevent and combat harassment; enforce and monitor; and educate, train and raise awareness.

The Convention defines violence and harassment as:

a range of unacceptable behaviours and practice, or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm, and includes gender-based violence and harassment.”

The protection of the Convention is wide as it applies to:

“workers and other person in the work of work, including employees…as well as persons working irrespective of their contractual status, persons in training, including interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, jobseekers and job applicants, and individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer.”

These protected individuals can be working in:

“all sectors, whether private or public, both in the formal and informal economy, and whether in urban or rural areas.”

Action plan announced for hospitality

Perhaps in recognition of the Convention, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and UKHospitality have together produced practical guidance on how to stop the harassment of hospitality staff being seen as ‘just part of the job’. Whilst developed for the hospitality industry, the EHRC has said it can be applied to any workplace.

The guidance contains a checklist, which is broken into three areas: changing the working environment; working practices; and communicating with staff. The action plan highlights the steps that employers should take to make the checklist part of their working practices. There is also a monitoring log that helps highlight any further action that might be required to make the workplace safer.

Employers: take action

Make no bones about it: whilst individuals cannot rely on the Convention to support a claim, it illustrates the direction of travel in terms of the laws regarding workplace violence and harassment in the UK. The majority of employers are currently unlikely to be doing enough and will have to get serious about, and busy with enhancing, their approach to these issues in the workplace over the next nine months. 

Regardless of the industry or sector in which they operate, employers should not delay in reviewing their current practices, policies and procedures to identify what (more) they can do to prevent violence and harassment in their working environment. There will be something and it will prove to be potentially costly if that something is identified by the individual complaining about the unacceptable behaviours and practices they have had to suffer in the workplace.

If you require any help or advice with reviewing your working practices, policies and procedures to identify what you can do to prevent violence and harassment in your working environment contact Blackadders’ Employment Team working in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen.

Donna Reynolds - employment law partner

Donna Reynolds, Partner
Accredited by the Law Society of Scotland as a Specialist in Employment Law & Discrimination Law


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