Section 32: Dignity at work

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32.1 As part of the overall commitment to equality for a diverse workforce, NHS employers should aim to create a culture in which all staff have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

32.2 To achieve this, employers should, in partnership with local staff representatives, draw up a policy on dignity at work, including a procedure for dealing effectively with cases of harassment.

32.3 The policy should apply to all staff, contractors and employees of other organisations who are on site, volunteers, visitors and patients at the point of service delivery.

32.4 It should be the responsibility of employers, through publication and promotion, to ensure that all concerned are aware of this policy and of sources of available support; that managers and staff are aware of the expectations which flow from the policy and what to do if these are not met.

32.5 There should be appropriate training undertaken to support the promotion of this policy.

Setting a culture to promote dignity at work

32.6 NHS employers and local staff representatives should agree what actions will be taken to identify the main causes of harassment or bullying at work and what actions should be taken to remove these causes.

32.7 NHS employers have a duty to prevent harassment taking place. Managers have a responsibility to set the standards of acceptable behaviour expected of staff. They should ensure their own behaviour could not be construed as personal harassment by acting with fairness and equity. This includes using their judgement to correct standards of conduct or behaviour which could be seen as harassment, and to remind staff of these standards. Each member of staff carries responsibility for his or her own behaviour.

Dealing with complaints

32.8 NHS employers and local staff representatives should agree in partnership a procedure designed to deal with cases where there has been a departure from the dignity at work policy or where there has been an allegation of harassment or bullying.


32.9 Harassment is defined as “any conduct based on age, gender, pregnancy or maternity, marriage or civil partnership, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, disability, HIV status, race, religion, or belief political, trades union or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a minority, domestic circumstances, property, birth or other status which is unreciprocated or unwanted and which affects the dignity of men and women at work.”

32.10 Bullying is defined as “the unwanted behaviour, one to another, which is based upon the unwarranted use of authority or power.”

32.11 In all cases it will be for the recipient to define what is inappropriate behaviour.

32.12 “At work” includes any place where the occasion can be identified with either the requirements of the employer, or with social events linked to the same employment. It includes any place where NHS care is delivered.


32.13 The procedure for dealing with complaints against members of staff should be seen as separate and different from the grievance procedure, and should recognise the difficulties being experienced by complainants.

32.14 Separate procedures dealing with complaints by members of staff against patients, visitors or employees of other organisations should be drawn up.

32.15 The procedures should advise complainants that they may, if they wish, deal with their complaint informally, by directly requesting the behaviour to stop (or with the assistance of a colleague).

32.16 All complaints should be taken seriously and investigated promptly and thoroughly.

32.17 For complaints against other staff members:

  • there will be rights of representation in line with the grievance procedure and complainants should have access to trained advisers to help them to deal with the process of complaint;
  • there will be specific provision within the procedure to deal with cases where the alleged harasser manages, or is managed by, the complainant;
  • an alleged harasser will have the right to be informed in writing of the complaint made against them.
32.18 A formal complaint should trigger an investigation, with the investigator(s) operating outside their normal area of responsibility.

32.19 Investigators should be trained in the skills of objective investigation, interviewing and report writing.

32.20 The investigator(s) should produce a factual report in reasonable time for presentation to the relevant reporting manager.

32.21 It is the responsibility of the reporting manager to produce an outcome to a valid complaint which offers a remedy which may include mediation.

32.22 The reporting manager will decide whether the disciplinary procedure needs to be invoked for the alleged harasser.

32.23 Confidentiality should be maintained, as far as is compatible with thorough investigation and the effective handling of each case, and steps should be taken to ensure that complainants and witnesses remain free from victimisation.

32.24 When a complaint turns out not to be made in good faith, the reporting manager should decide whether the disciplinary procedure be invoked for the complainant.


32.25 The procedure should allow for either party to appeal.

32.26 The complainant may appeal if it is felt that the process of investigation and subsequent application, or not, of the disciplinary procedure has been unfairly or poorly carried out or agreed. There should be no appeal allowed to the complainant against the perceived severity or leniency of the disciplinary action taken.

32.27 The alleged harasser may appeal if it is felt that the process of investigation or subsequent application of the disciplinary procedure has been unfairly or poorly carried out or agreed. The alleged harasser should also be allowed to appeal against the perceived severity of the disciplinary action taken.

Monitoring and review

32.28 Provision should be made for managers to monitor complaints and their outcomes in partnership with local staff representatives.

32.29 Monitoring arrangements should be capable of seeking out the causes of harassment and bullying so as to remove them from the organisation.

Pay circular (AforC):1/2012 amendment number 25

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