18 April, 2009


Dealing with Harassment, Bullying & Discrimination

Being mistreated can be incredibly distressing. Whether you are suffering from harassment or bullying is immaterial, it is wrong. No one has a right to make you unhappy. You have a legal right to work, shop, live unmolested and free from persecution.

What's what?
Bullying, harassment and discrimination. Understanding the meaning of these is the first key to recognising what you are experiencing. Here are some definitions to help you consider your situation.

two ladies talking to man

What is bullying?
Bullying is persistent unwelcome behaviour, mainly using unwarranted or inaccurate criticism and fault finding. Additionally exclusion, isolation, being singled out and treated differently can be considered bullying, as can being shouted at, humiliated, suffering excessive monitoring, having inappropriate or untrue verbal and written warnings imposed, and much more. In the workplace, bullying usually focuses on distorted or fabricated allegations of underperformance.

So who can suffer from bullying? Anyone. You may be serving onboard a Naval warship, with a Marines unit, or working in the local supermarket. There is no restriction as to where bullying can take place and it is often very subtle and difficult for others to spot. What was often accepted, or even encouraged in previous years, is now recognised as wholly wrong and totally illegal.

Employers Responsibilities
Bullying is a common aspect of other workplace problems such as harassment and discrimination, violence and ill health. Bullying, wherever it takes place, is a major contributor to physical and mental ill health, stress and absence from work. Employers have a vested financial interest, as well as a legal obligation, to ensure your safety at work, and this includes preventing bullying.

All employers are subject to employment law, and, although having a bullying policy is not legally required, most major employers are likely to have policies in place. This policy should...

  • Show how to make an informal and formal complaint
  • Have a clear procedure for investigating allegations
  • Allow you to be represented in making your complaint
  • Identify the disciplinary action that could be taken against individuals who are bullying others
  • Ensure total employee confidentiality

woman filing papers

What to do
So what do you do if you think you are being bullied? The important thing to remember is you do not have to put up with it, you have a RIGHT to live and work unmolested and free from ill-treatment. No one has a right to abuse or mistreat someone else and anyone behaving in this way towards you is likely to be committing an offence under employment, anti-discrimination, or even criminal law. Therefore you have a right to complain and challenge any wrongdoing. Here's what you can do...

  • Challenge the perpetrator - If you feel able and wish to do so, speak to the person who is causing you hurt or offence. It is possible that he/she may be doing so inadvertently. Have a friend to support you if you wish, but make sure you do not become a bully yourself!!
  • Speak to your immediate superior - or Divisional Officer or Equal Opportunities Advisor, who should initiate the RN/RM anti-bullying policy
  • Take it higher - If your complaint to your superior has not resolved the bullying issues, you should raise it formally through the RN/RM complaints procedure. Remember bullying is a form of misconduct and a disciplinary issue.
  • The RN/RM has a duty of care to ensure a working environment free from harassment, discrimination and intimidation and has set a standard of zero tolerance as a benchmark. You may wish to seek advice about this policy from the various organisations that are there to help:

info More Information: NPFS / RM Welfare

info More Information: RNCom Help Desk

info More Information: Confidential Supportline

website Web site: Bullying Online - Bullying

website Web site: WorkSmart (TUC) - Bullying

website Web site: Forces Discount - Solicitors

What is harassment?
Harassment is unwanted and unwelcome behaviour, which may range from mildly unpleasant remarks to physical violence.

Harassment is termed sexual harassment if the unwanted behaviours are linked to your gender or sexual orientation. The EU definition of sexual harassment is "unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of men and women at work".

Racial harassment is when the behaviours are linked to your skin colour, race, cultural background, etc. In countries with sectarian traditions (e.g. as in Ireland) the term sectarian harassment is often used if the behaviours are linked to your religious beliefs or perceived religious origin or inclination. If the harassment is physical, the criminal law of assault may be relevant. If the harassment comprises regular following, watching, repeated unsolicited contact or gifts, etc, the term stalking may be appropriate.

website Web site: Bullying Online

website Web site: Equality Online

What is Discrimination?
Discrimination is any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which undermines or denies a person's recognition, employment, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing to others.

Discrimination comes in three forms:

  • Direct Discrimination - To single out a person or group for better or worse treatment.
  • Indirect Discrimination - To impose a rule that appears to affect everyone equally, but may disadvantage groups or individuals. For example, only sailors between 5' 9'' and 6' 2'' can apply for guard training appears an equal requirement but may exclude most women and some ethnic groups.
  • Institutional Discrimination - This is where the culture, policy, practices or processes of an organisation may be discriminatory because it is inherently biased in favour of a majority group, or against a minority group. Institutional discrimination can involve both direct and indirect discrimination, and may not be a direct result of the prejudice of an individual.

So who suffers from discrimination? According to the general definition, discrimination is mainly experienced by those who are in some form of minority. Whether this is due to ethnicity, religion, gender, or to a disability or learning difficulty, discrimination is illegal. Therefore you have ways of challenging and countering discrimination if it impacts upon you.

diverisity in the workplace

Equal Opportunities and Diversity in the Royal Navy
Like all major employers, both the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence have clearly defined and structured policies to counter discrimination, harassment and bullying.

The Armed Forces Overarching Personnel Strategy states...

"The Services Equal Opportunities goal is to achieve universal acceptance and application of a working environment free from harassment, intimidation and unlawful discrimination, in which all have equal opportunity, consistent with our legal obligations, to realise their full potential in contributing to the maintenance and enhancement of operational effectiveness."

This statement is supported by clear procedures for those encountering difficulties within the Service, lending responsibility to all within the chain of command to ensure the Royal Navy provides both working and social environments free from bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Bullying, harassment and discrimination are 'as perceived' by the person considering themselves to be on the receiving end. The fact that a perpetrator does not intend or understand that their actions are imposing on others is irrelevant to the validity of the complaint.

Should you feel you are, or have been, subject to bullying, harassment or discrimination within the Service, you can discuss your circumstances with any of the following...

  • Immediate Supervisor
  • Divisional Officer
  • Head of Department
  • Your Equal Opportunities Advisor
  • The Chaplain

Phone Icon Phone: 0117 913 2470 | Mil: 9352 32470 - WSA Equal Opportunities Champion

info More Information: NPFS / RM Welfare

info More Information: RNCom Help Desk

info More Information: Confidential Supportline

The RN Guide for Equal Opportunities for its personnel states the following...

"Your complaint will always be treated seriously.
Do not be put off because you do not want to be seen to be making a fuss.
You may not be the only one that is being harassed; if you say nothing then it is possible that the perpetrator will remain undetected and free to harass someone else later on.
You have a duty to yourself and colleagues to alert the Service to problems so that action can be taken.
A thorough investigation will be carried out following any formal complaint and, if upheld, the matter maybe dealt with administratively or under current Service disciplinary procedures."

RN Guide for Equal Opportunities further states that...

"Service personnel also have the right to submit their complaint to an Employment Tribunal (ET) under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Equal Pay Act (Northern Ireland) 1970.

For a Service person to make an application to an Employment Tribunal, a complaint covering the same issue must have been submitted (and not withdrawn) under the internal redress procedures. Consequently, a Service complainant has 6 months to refer a case to an ET, i.e. 3 months longer than for civilians."

To submit a complaint to an ET you need to obtain a Form ET1, complete it and then forward it to the address given on the form. When doing so, your employer's name and address should be given as:

Ministry of Defence
CS Law
Victory Building
HM Naval Base
Hants PO1 3LS

A copy of the form should also be given to your CO.

Form ET1 may be obtained from local Job Centres, Citizens Advice Bureau or from the following addresses:

England and Wales Central Office of Employment Tribunals
Special Registration Unit
PO Box 3309
London SW1

Scotland Central Office of Employment Tribunals
The Eagle Building
215 Bothwell Street
Glasgow G2 7TS

Northern Ireland Office of Employment Tribunals and the Fair
Employment Tribunal
Long Bridge Street
20/24 Waring Street
Belfast BT1 2EB

Source: Equal Opportunities & You, a publication for Naval personnel

woman filing papers

Information, Advice, Advocacy and Legal Representation
Whether you are suffering from bullying, harassment or discrimination there are numerous sources of support, both within and outside the Navy. Depending on whom you contact, this support can range from a listening ear, to having an independent advocate, to active legal representation.

Phone Icon Phone: 0845 6015901- Equal Opportunities Commission Helpline

info More Information: NPFS / RM Welfare

info More Information: RNCom Help Desk

info More Information: Confidential Supportline

website Web site: Commission for Racial Equality

website Web site: Disability.Gov - Disability Discrimination

website Web site: Equal Opportunities Commission

website Web site: Forces Discount - Solicitors

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