Over the past few years, mental health in the workplace has come under the spotlight with more emphasis on how businesses can support the people working for them.

Bullying or harassment in an office environment or on-site can cause significant damage to a person’s mental health and can have potential legal, reputational and financial repercussions for an employer or engager. B P Collins’ employment partner, Alix Beese explores these concerns in further detail.

Mental health in construction
The latest Mental Health in the Trades: 2023 Report found that 98% of building surveyors and 82% of builders experience mental health issues at least once a year. It also found that four in five UK tradespeople (84%) say they’ve experienced some form of mental health problems due to work, such as stress, anxiety or depression.

The report also found that those who are between 18 and 24 years old are most likely to face these challenges, with almost all those surveyed (98%) reporting some form of mental health issue every year. However, it is those aged 35 to 44 who face such conditions most often with one in ten struggling every day.

These figures confirm the scale of mental health concerns in the UK construction industry. Therefore, those involved in the industry understand that they must be alert to any allegations of bullying and harassment – both contributory factors – and seek to construct a culture that encourages the workforce to speak to management about any issues.

What is bullying?

ACAS describes bullying as “unwanted behaviour from a person or group that is either:

  • offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting; or
  • an abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, or causes physical or emotional harm to someone.”

It is important to note that there is no legal definition of bullying.

What can constitute bullying?

Bullying is very broad and can include a range of actions such as:

  • abusive or intimidating behaviour
  • overbearing or intimidating levels of supervision
  • inappropriate or derogatory remarks about an individual’s performance

The relationship between bullying and harassment

Bullying and harassment are often confused. Harassment is covered by the Equality Act 2010 and can give rise to a claim in the Employment Tribunal.

Bullying can therefore become harassment under the Equality Act if it is related to any of the following protected characteristics:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Separately, sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. This type of harassment does not need to be related to a protected characteristic.

Certain acts of harassment may also fall under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which is separate to the types of harassment under the Equality Act 2010.

How construction businesses can combat bullying and harassment at work

Businesses should be proactive in promoting a respectful and inclusive working environment and importantly should ensure they have in place the necessary frameworks to address allegations of bullying and harassment.

Businesses are advised to:

  • Implement clear policies on managing grievances and separate policies (if applicable) on managing allegations of bullying and harassment.
  • Fairly and consistently investigate complaints of bullying and harassment and if appropriate in the circumstances consider appropriate disciplinary action against alleged perpetrators.
  • Provide diversity training, which includes examples of unacceptable conduct.

B P Collins’ employment team is highly experienced in advising the construction sector on employment law considerations in the workplace. Due to its quality of work, it has been instructed on high profile discrimination and whistleblowing cases, which have established legal precedent. It is ranked ‘Top tier’ by independent legal directory, The Legal 500.

For further information, please email enquiries@bpcollins.co.uk or call 01753 889995.

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Jo Davis
Practice Group Leader

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