Bullying and harassment: NHSScotland PIN policy

This Partnership Information Network (PIN) policy is not in use after 1 March 2020. Policies in force after 1 March 2020 are on https://workforce.nhs.scot/policies

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2 Strategic framework and culture

Drawing on research into best practice in the public and private sectors (see Appendix 6) the following section outlines seven key points to consider when drawing up a strategy for eliminating bullying and harassment.

2.1 Organisational development

  • The organisation needs to actively encourage an open and trusting culture;
  • Organisations should draw up a 'Code of Conduct' in partnership with staff and trade union/professional organisations ensuring that all employees can be confident that they will be treated with dignity. Codes of Conduct should highlight positive issues such as good management practice and employee conduct, and not simply focus upon negative behaviours. These should be prepared on a system wide basis to set the fundamental principles, but also allow for some local flexibility;
  • The Code of Conduct should also specify the responsibility of employees to ensure that they interact with colleagues both internally and externally in an appropriate manner. It should also set out the right and responsibility of line managers to manage fairly and reasonably. It should also advise on action which may be taken where there is a failure to adhere to the Code;
  • Organisations should incorporate bullying and harassment into their Health and Safety Risk Assessment programmes;
  • Organisations should be proactive in assessing the extent of the problem within the organisation ( e.g. through staff surveys, exit interviews, etc.). It is not sufficient to merely react to incidents when they occur; and
  • Any policies and procedures must be developed locally, fully inclusively and in partnership, so that they may be owned locally and impact upon the organisational culture, thereby effecting the necessary changes in attitude and behaviour.

2.2 Policy and procedure

  • Organisations should have a clearly defined policy and procedure for dealing with bullying/harassment complaints and which apply to all employees;
  • In line with ACASCode of Practice (2009)12, the policy should highlight the requirement for attempts to resolve disputes through informal procedures and dialogue where possible, only resorting to the formal procedure when all other avenues have been exhausted. The policy should recognise that there will be instances where the circumstances of a situation are such that they require to be dealt with formally from the outset given their level of gravity and seriousness;
  • The policy and procedure should be drawn up in partnership with trade union/professional organisation representatives and staff;
  • The policy should define types of behaviours which will be regarded as bullying/harassment;
  • The policy should incorporate separate informal and formal procedures. In both situations, as far as is possible, all complaints will be treated confidentially;
  • There should be time limits in the procedures so that complaints may be dealt with quickly without unreasonable delay. The time limits will often depend upon the nature, breadth and gravity of the allegation(s) and may therefore be different for every instance. The policy should therefore suggest that all stakeholders agree timescales on a case-by-case basis on the presumption of no unreasonable delay;
  • The policy must include ensuring feedback, as appropriate, to all involved of the outcome of the processes applied;
  • The policy should allow employees to request a review of any formal decision made. Reviews of decisions on bullying/harassment complaints sometimes have to be scheduled alongside other disciplinary or grievance processes (including other appeals/reviews) and the review procedure should take this into account; and
  • The effectiveness of the policy and procedure should be monitored on a regular basis by senior staff.

2.3 Communication

  • Senior staff must show visible commitment and support for the policy in order that it is genuinely adopted within the organisation;
  • Employees should be provided with clear examples of the types of behaviour that could constitute bullying/harassment;
  • Employees should be made aware that bullying and harassment will be treated as serious disciplinary offences;
  • Employees should be made aware of the consequences of making malicious or vexatious complaints;
  • It should be made clear that an organisation's managers have a responsibility to manage staff and that this in itself does not constitute bullying/harassment, but equally that if management is carried out in an inappropriate manner and proves to be bullying/harassment then this will be dealt with appropriately; and
  • Where possible, organisations, management and trade union/professional organisations should set up local/national networks to compare best practice.

2.4 Training

  • Managers and trade unions/professional organisations should adopt proactive awareness programmes to ensure that all staff are familiar with the policy and procedure;
  • A core part of a line manager's function is the ability to deal with complaints of inappropriate behaviour. Organisations should consider how line managers can be trained to develop sufficient competence in dealing with such matters;
  • Organisations may consider appointing investigators to deal with bullying/harassment complaints, though they must ensure that those undertaking such a role are fully trained in undertaking investigations; and
  • Organisations may adopt various approaches to mediation or facilitated discussion. However, irrespective of the approach adopted, they must ensure that those involved are appropriately trained.

2.5 Support

  • Organisations should have mechanisms of support available to employees who feel they have been the victims of bullying/harassment such as Confidential Contacts;
  • It may be appropriate, subject to specific circumstances and the availability of an appropriate resource, to consider providing professional counselling support to those who feel they are being subjected to bullying/harassment, as well as to those alleged to be carrying it out; and
  • Where appropriate, facilitated discussion (or another forum for discussion between those involved) should be provided to restore effective working relationships. In line with the ACAS Code, 13 these informal routes should be the first port of call in most cases before formal routes are pursued.

2.6 Principles and culture

2.6.1 Organisational values

As stated previously, organisational culture has a crucial part to play in engendering a working environment in which there is a low risk of bullying/harassment occurring. The values of NHSScotland are explicitly defined as follows:

  • To ensure equity of access to services;
  • To identify and meet people's needs and wishes;
  • To set and aim to achieve the highest standards possible of care and respect for each person and of results; and
  • To improve standards through research, education, monitoring and review while enabling those who work in the service to achieve its purpose and to share its values, whilst feeling valued themselves.

2.6.2 Organisational responsibilities

To support this clear statement, each organisation within NHSScotland must ensure a working environment that visibly demonstrates its commitment to and support of all staff, including agency and contracted staff. An organisation with such a culture will:

  • Encourage openness, trust and teamwork;
  • Demonstrate that all staff will be treated, and be expected to treat each other with dignity and respect; and that their overall contribution to the work of the organisation will be valued;
  • Give clear signals that bullying and harassment is unacceptable anywhere in the organisation;
  • Give clarity on what types of behaviour will be regarded as unacceptable and acceptable, through the development of a Code of Conduct for all staff;
  • Communicate clearly defined policies and procedures for addressing complaints of bullying/harassment;
  • Take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of bullying and harassment, establish structures for identifying the potential of it occurring, and take prompt action whenever incidents occur; and
  • Make it clear to employees that, in a performance driven organisation, managers have the responsibility to manage and therefore appropriate performance management does not constitute bullying/harassment.

Organisations must examine their own organisational culture and decide which are the most important principles, values, behaviours and attitudes it wishes to adopt. It is advised that the following principles and values should underpin any strategy, policy or procedure for dealing with bullying and harassment. The organisation should:

  • Value all of its employees;
  • Encourage them to value each other;
  • Foresee the potential for bullying and harassment;
  • Take reasonable steps to reduce the risk; and
  • Take appropriate action where incidents are raised, but also recognise that not all incidents raised may necessarily have an organisational solution or be within the responsibility of the organisation to resolve.

2.6.3 Employee rights

All employees have a right to work in an environment that:

  • Is safe;
  • Promotes dignity at work;
  • Encourages individuals to treat each other with respect;
  • Promotes speaking politely, openly and honestly with others;
  • Is open, transparent and fair; and
  • Encourages staff to take responsibility for each other.

2.6.4 Employee responsibilities

All employees have a responsibility to:

  • Ensure their own behaviour within the organisation helps create a culture free from bullying and harassment;
  • Ensure they are supportive of individuals who state they have been bullied/harassed and take full account of their feelings and perceptions of the situation;
  • Encourage such individuals to seek help from an appropriate source;
  • Refrain from participating in, encouraging or condoning gossip related to cases of alleged or actual bullying/harassment;
  • Take appropriate steps to prevent or stop such gossip in their area of work; and
  • Attend training sessions, which may be arranged to increase their awareness and appreciation of the issues involved in bullying and harassment.

2.6.5 Misconceived or unreasonable complaints

In order to avoid a complaint being judged as misconceived or unreasonable, employees should reflect on the nature of the complaint before making a formal allegation. Was the behaviour simply performance management, a clash of personalities or a simple disagreement?

NHSScotland takes formal complaints very seriously. Whenever someone makes a malicious or vexatious complaint, consideration will need to be given to whether disciplinary action against the complainant is required.

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