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I am in England. Both I and many of my friends have experienced abusive/misogynistic/bullying that veers into mobbing/ harassment/sexual harassment at work. I think everyone's first instinct is to try and ignore it but when reported to management or HR they have done very little to change the situation. Of course I now realise that management and HR are really there for limiting any liability for the firm.

This has got me wondering whether there are situations where people at work are justified in calling the police? It's a given that any kind of threat or physical danger to safety would be a more than justifiable reason to call the police. However, what if there was sexual harassment or abusive behaviour that was reducing somebody to tears? Would these be good enough reasons to get the police involved?

It's not so much the action that the police can take but I have always found that involving a strong third-party authority figure such as the police has done wonders in culling abusive bad behaviour than any management/HR quiet word with the perpetrator.

If you have any experiences that you can share I would really appreciate it.

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4 Answers 4

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IMHO, you should speak to a lawyer regarding this issue.

You will get a valuable information of documenting abusive behavior and management unwillingness to do anything to rectify the situation

As this is a hostile workplace and you will be leaving it at some point, may as well get a compensation

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I have always found that involving a strong third-party authority figure such as the police has done wonders in culling abusive bad behaviour than any management/HR quiet word with the perpetrator

Without wanting to seem harsh, this seems incredibly naive. Sure, the police turn up and give somebody a good telling off. Then they leave. You now have to deal with:

  1. Management. They have already shown they don't want to deal with this issue, do you honestly think they are suddenly going to do anything about the issue?
  2. The perpetrators themselves. They're a mob of bullies, and will now view you as a "rat" as well as whatever else.

I strongly suspect the effect of all this is going to be both the bullying getting worse, and you losing your job. You'd quite possibly win at an employment tribunal, but that's always a pyrrhic victory.

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situations where people at work are justified in calling the police?

(Assuming you are not in a position of authority)

When a serious crime is being committed that needs to be given police attention without delay.

When you judge your life is in immediate danger and it's not part of your job to take those sorts of risks.

When you judge someone elses life is in immediate danger and it's not your job to protect them.

When someone has been killed.

Most other scenarios should be escalated within the workplace hierarchy rather than straight to the police. Either later after leaving the toxic environment or by going straight to the bosses.

Dropping whatever you're supposed to be doing and walking straight to the bosses is in my opinion the best remedy for serious harassment. It removes you to a safer environment and forces them to do something about the immediate situation rather than just tick forms.

The scenarios you describe on the other hand may be viable for legal action at some point, but not police action.

So for example when I was bouncing I wouldn't immediately call the police if someone had a knife, I'd inform the boss of the dress code violation and what steps I had taken to address it.

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  • Carrying a (presumably) illegal weapon is just a dress code violation? Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 3:47
  • (In places I have worked, we'd ban them for life and pass on their details to police. Dress code violation and you'd be told to go home, get changed and come back.) Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 3:48
  • @GregoryCurrie I was a bouncer, weapons are not allowed in the bar, so just a violation at that point. No need to spoil the chaps night and stop him spending money, or ban him so he can't spend money next week.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 3:54
  • Ok. Probably just a location thing. Because where I am, carrying weapons are illegal, and there is no justification. In fact, a citizen can arrest someone who is carrying a weapon. Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 4:43
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    @GregoryCurrie illegal where I bounced as well, as was marijuana, littering and other things, but I wasn't a cop, I was a bouncer. Getting someone with a knife locked up (assuming you could make him wait for the police) seems like an escalation that could get someone hurt badly either right then or in the future. Or get a brick flying and damaging the venue. I was more about de-escalation and people enjoying themselves and going home after spending all their money.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 5:54
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Don't call the police; the police aren't meant for this type of situation. There are legal statutes to help you. If you are in the UK, that means you have Constructive Dismissal laws. Use those, instead of the police.

Step 1: Talk to HR/Management/your boss about this issue, explain what the problem is, ask them to do something about it.

Step 2: Talk to a lawyer and see if this falls under the legal definition of Constructive Dismissal. The common definition is a situation in a workplace that is so untenable that a reasonable person would have no option but to quit. Obviously this applies legally in various ways that a lawyer would have to help you with.

Step 3: Send a very strongly worded notice to your employer that this is a big deal and they need to do something about it. Do not mention that you have spoken to a lawyer, because that leads to a whole bunch of other issues, including potentially firing you.

Step 4: Find another job and sue for Constructive Dismissal, as well as whatever else your lawyer tells you might be applicable.

These steps are, of course, all assuming logical connections. If you complain to your manager and then the bullying stops, then don't contact a lawyer; if your lawyer tells you you have no case, then don't sue for constructive dismissal, etc. I am not a lawyer.

Also make sure to keep as much documentation as you can regarding these incidents, times, dates, people, who you contacted, when, if/how they responded, and so on. Any/all of it might be useful as evidence in court if it eventually gets that far.

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    Edited to be more applicable to the question.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 18:48
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    Don't talk to HR & management. Put it in writing. In the US, failure to investigate a sexual harassment claim would be damning to the company in a subsequent lawsuit.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 22:49
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    I'm downvoting this answer, and that's because I agree with Tiger Guy. You do not talk to management/HR. You send them a well-crafted email first (that you BCC your personal email address on). Then, you can talk to them. Documentation is key. This way, if the other person escalates, or if management retaliates against your complaint (whether directly or indirectly), at least you have time-stamped proof that you complained in the first place. Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 23:20
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    @TigerGuy Sometimes hard to avoid verbal discussions (esp. if HR/management are trying to force that) but in that case, the fall-back is to take notes and then email them after: "Hi, just sending you my summary of our conversation today to confirm that we have the same understanding of what was agreed". That puts it back on record.
    – G_B
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 0:47
  • By "talk to" in the answer I mean verbally or by text. That said, at some companies it may be impossible to actually talk to someone by text and a meeting may be required.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 14:45

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