Most dental practices are a close-knit affair when it comes to the team and their working dynamic. Therefore, allegations of bullying within such a team can pose a big impact and highlight questions such as: how should I investigate an allegation of bullying? Is it appropriate to conduct interviews with the alleged bully and witnesses? Is this deemed a breach of confidence if the victim has asked me not to make things harder for them?
It is fundamental for a dental practice to be aware of how to deal with allegations of bullying effectively in order to avoid any ramifications, such as loss of morale and productivity within the dental team, or even employment tribunals and other court cases. Employers have a ‘duty of care’ towards employees and are responsible for preventing bullying within the workplace, being liable for any bullying experienced by their employees.
It may be possible for allegations of bullying to be resolved informally. Some individuals may be unaware that their behaviour is causing offence to others and, once informed, any ill behaviour may stop. Individuals may be able to stop this behaviour themselves, or may require assistance from workplace personnel.
If the informal route has not been successful or is not deemed appropriate, more formal procedures should be implemented using the practice’s grievance procedure or personal harassment procedure.
It is important to remember that investigations regarding bullying should take place both quickly and impartially. Complainants should be made aware of the anti-bullying policy enforced by the dental practice and any terms that must be adhered to when a complaint is made.
Any investigation must be objective and all factors should be considered, ie harassment, being felt to be treated differently by others and from these results a suitable course of action can be taken.
Anti-bullying policies should be in place and enforced around the practice. Policies may differ, but core principles should remain the same. Some examples are:
- The practice maintains a zero-tolerance approach towards bullying against any of its staff
- The practice provides on-going training to all staff on how to avoid and manage conflict and also how to identify instances of bullying and its impact
- Any complaints of bullying should be made via the practice’s grievance or personal harassment procedure, with individuals found to have undertaken bullying behaviour being dealt with via the disciplinary procedure
- Any substantiated allegations may warrant disciplinary action, up to and including summary dismissal (dismissal without notice pay).
Although it is not at this stage a disciplinary hearing and an investigation meeting should be conducted as such, it is still an important factor of an investigation to speak to all people involved. As the alleged bully is the focal point of the complaint, it is important that you speak to them.
It is not considered a breach of confidence to interview an alleged bully and indeed many policies on bullying or personal harassment within organisations include this step specifically. It cannot be considered a rounded or full investigation if the alleged bully is not spoken to as part of the investigation.
Therefore it should be explained to the alleged victim that you will not seek to compromise their position or make things harder for them, but that, if they wish for a full procedure to be adopted, speaking to the alleged bully is a key part to forming an objective investigation.
The matter should only then be discussed privately, while the alleged perpetrator must be given the opportunity to present their version of events and, if found guilty, the employer can enforce the dental practice’s disciplinary procedures. A fair procedure should be followed in all circumstances to ensure decisions are based on thorough investigations and that the sanction is appropriate to the misconduct.