Bullying at work can have an affect on morale and productivity, both for the victim and for the wider team. While bullying in the workplace does not automatically fall under the remit of the 2010 Equality Act, incidents related to the protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act  are classed as harassment and therefore unlawful.  As a result, the victim can seek redress or resolution through legal challenges, e.g. mediation or an employment tribunal.The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) defines bullying as: "Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient".

Harassment is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as "Unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual". Examples of non-sexual harassment include stalking, threats to kill, inflicting bodily injury with or without a weapon, attempting to choke or strangle,  drugging, poisoning, throwing corrosive fluid and burning, maiming, disfiguring.

Download the Pact Anti-Harassment & Bullying Policy template

Download our Anti-Harassment & Bullying Policy template


Bullying and harassment can be:

– intentional or unintentional, targeted at an individual or a group
– not specifically targeted but have an overall impact that creates a negative work environment
– repeated behaviour over a period of time, or one isolated incident
– between workers and/or managers at the same or different levels in the organisation
– in the same or different departments or areas of work within or outside of the organisation
– between employees, workers and external contractors and/or clients within or outside of the organisation
– mobbing – when more than one person is involved
– neglect or marginalisation
– during daily work activities, at work-organised events held on-site or off-site, inside and outside of working hours
– face-to-face, over the telephone, by email, text messages and online, e.g. social media platforms

Sexual harassment is defined as "actions or content of a sexual nature.  for example language, suggestive remarks, innuendo in written or verbal communications, unwanted compliments with a sexual flavour, unwanted physical contact", e.g. hugging or stroking, promise of a reward in return for sexual favours or threats of retribution if sexual advances are rejected.  Non-consensual sexual behaviour is classed as sexual assault or rape, as defined in the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

– A hug, kiss on the cheek, or casual touch is not necessarily sexual harassment. The key is whether the behaviour was unwanted or offensive
– It does not matter if a person has sexual feelings towards the recipient, only that the behaviour is of a sexual nature and that it was unwanted and/or offensive
– Sexual harassment is gender neutral and orientation neutral. It can be perpetrated by any gender against any gender

Examples of bullying and harassment include (but are not limited to):

– Shouting, swearing, intimidating, threatening or throwing things
– Belittling a person’s creative input
– Unfairly blaming others – e.g. for the failures of technology; humiliation and ridicule either in private, at meetings or in front of others
– Spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone by word or behaviour
– Copying memos that are critical about someone to others who do not need to know
– Ridiculing or demeaning someone or picking on them
– Innuendo or mockery
– Threats, abuse, teasing, gossip, banter or practical jokes/pranks
– Unwelcome sexual advances – touching, standing too close, the display of offensive materials, asking for sexual favours
– Making decisions on the basis of sexual advances being accepted or rejected
– Homophobic, racist or sexist comments, offensive gestures
– Excluding individuals or groups or socially isolating them
– Unfair treatment, such as tasks with unachievable deadlines
– Overbearing supervision
– Making threats or comments about job security without foundation
– Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading them
– Undermining with constant criticism
– Preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities
– Intruding on a person’s privacy by pestering, spying or stalking
– Tampering with a person’s personal belongings or work equipment
– Cyber-bullying conducted online by email, online messaging, online gaming or social media channels, e.g. offensive language, embarrassing pictures or videos, fake profiles, death threats.

Be particularly vigilant and sensitive about such behaviour at "crunch times". When everyone is working long hours to meet a deadline, tempers can be short, people may be exhausted.

What are my responsibilities as an employer? 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that companies should have "systems in place to deal with interpersonal conflicts such as bullying and harassment". The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) states that "behaviour that is considered bullying by one person may be considered firm management by another" and there can often be "grey areas". As an employer, it is your responsibility to set up and apply a shared set of standards for behaviour. You should apply these consistently to all team members at all levels. 

This is an issue for the creative industries. As an example, The State of Play survey on unscripted TV, published in January 2021, found that over 93% of respondents have experienced bullying or harassment in the TV industry, and only 11% who reported incidents felt that the matter had been resolved satisfactorily. 

The screen industries can be inconsistent in dealing with workplace culture. Processes are not always robust in an informal industry where many smaller players do not have in-house HR teams and where the workforce is often freelance, working on short-term contracts to different employers on-set, or in production offices. 

The BFI has created a set of anti-bullying principles and accompanying guidelines that are easy to implement in the highly-pressured, informal work environments within the TV, film and games industries. Developed in partnership with BAFTA, Directors UK, Equity and WGGB, the Principles are a condition of BFI funding and have been embedded in the BFI’s Diversity Standards. The BFI also supported the launch of a 24hr film and television support line operated by the Film and TV Charity and backed by The Production Guild. The BFI, BAFTA and industry partners intend to keep this issue high on their collective agendas, and these principles and guidelines will be reviewed  every six months to keep them up fully up to date.

BFI Principles to tackle and prevent bullying, harassment and racism in the screen industries

Bullying, harassment and racism have no place in our industries. These Principles aim to eradicate such abuse and all forms of discrimination regarding a person’s protected characteristics. They can also help employers meet legal requirements. The Principles offer a shared vision to promote and maintain a safer, more inclusive workplace environment for everyone working in the screen industries: from employers, subcontractors and managers to employees, agency workers, trainees, volunteers, trustees and freelancers. 

1. Everyone is responsible for creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace that is positive and supportive.

2. We recognise that harassment may be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

3. We will explicitly address and seek to prevent racism and all other forms of discrimination and bias, their manifestations and effects.

4. Those of us who are employers accept our responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

5. We do not tolerate bullying and harassment on any grounds, including sexual harassment and racism, and will ensure that processes are in place for the reporting and investigation of these serious issues.

6. We recognise that bullying, harassment and racism can have significant adverse impacts on the productivity, long-term physical and mental health and well-being of affected people and we will work to eradicate it. This will mean providing adequate protection for complainants and victims, and, where bullying, harassment or racism is found to have occurred, taking appropriate action against bullies or harassers. 

7. We value inclusivity, appreciate difference, welcome learning from others, and consider people equal without prejudice or favour. We build relationships based on mutual respect. We will all work to give and receive feedback in a constructive way, which we know will improve creativity and productivity.

8. We understand that reporting bullying, harassment and racism can be intimidating. We will respect confidentiality where possible and aim to make the process of reporting clear and straightforward. If anyone comes forward to report behaviour which might amount to bullying, harassment and/or racism, we will endeavour to investigate objectively. Individuals who have made complaints of bullying, harassment and/or racism or participate in good faith in any investigation should not suffer any form of reprisal or victimisation as a result. 

9. We will respect each other’s dignity, regardless of the seniority of our role in an organisation.

BFI guidance for employers

In March 2021, the BFI and BAFTA launched a joint practical employer action list backed by over 40 organisations across film, games and television, including The Casting Directors’ Guild, Coalition for Change and talent agencies. The action list is based on the BFI Principles outlined above, and includes resources designed to assist employers to manage bullying and harassment in our sector. Producers supporting the action list include Faye Ward and Hannah Farrell of Fable Pictures (the recently BAFTA-nominated Rocks, Stan & Ollie, Wild Rose and the forthcoming TV series Anne Boleyn). We recommend reading, and absorbing, the full Action List. It advises employers to:

– Know your rights and responsibilities: as an industry we need to get better at formalising processes. The Dignity at Work Policy outlines the legal landscape. 
– Do the groundwork: Develop a toolkit that works for your company. You can adapt a companywide policy for productions of varying scales.
– Take part in ScreenSkills’ training on tackling bullying and harassment, to help you identify bullying and harassment.
–  Have a minimum of one but ideally two "designated individuals" available to your team who can take reports of bullying and harassment.

When managing a complaint, you should, as an employer:

– Respect confidentiality where possible and support the complainant, ask how they wish to proceed, whether  informal or formal (filing a grievance).
– Aim for early mitigation and open mediation — if your company does not have a formal procedure, recognise you have a duty of care for your workers and offer a process for employees to escalate concerns.
– Reassure the person reporting an incident that their confidentiality will be respected where possible and that the information they provide will be shared  on "a need to know basis".
– Try to keep to timescales outlined in your policy, provide updates and make every effort to give a quick response, especially when circumstances make it time critical.
– Visitors, full or part-time employed staff, workers or freelancers, "talent" or production third parties should all be equally protected by effective harassment policies and procedures.
– Ensure everyone understands that you will not tolerate any retaliation or intimidation against or victimisation of the individual raising a concern, making a report or assisting in an investigation.
– Assure the person that raising a concern will not disadvantage them as long as the issue was raised in good faith, is genuine and not malicious in nature.
– Enquire about the wellbeing of the person raising a concern and ensure that procedures and support are in place to minimise the impact on their mental health
– If the person chooses to remain anonymous, this may in some circumstances limit your ability to fully investigate.  You may need to fully and sympathetically explain to the complainant. Do not use this as an excuse to take no action over a credible complaint. Explain that remaining anonymous may not be a choice where the law or duty of care prevails. 

BFI advice for heads of department and team leaders

1. Know your responsibilities

Be clear about what is expected of you as a manager or your liability as an employer. This duty of care includes freelance staff. Take all reasonable steps to prevent bullying, harassment, racism and discrimination in the workplace. Think about how you would like to be treated. Make it clear that workplace banter that is offensive will not be tolerated. Do not laugh at or encourage inappropriate jokes. Challenge when you see inappropriate behaviour or hear inappropriate comments (see tackling inappropriate behaviour). Do not wait for a complaint. Doing nothing makes you complicit, and may make you legally liable if the situation escalates. The BFI encourages people to take the free online training developed by ScreenSkills, the skills body for the UK’s screen industries, designed to address bullying and harassment behaviours.

2. Write a policy

If you run an organisation of any size which employs people, write a policy or review your current policy in the light of the BFI Guidance. You can find available resources on the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (Acas) website to help you do this. The BFI and BAFTA have also provided a template policy for organisations and productions to adapt. Your policy can be quite brief but should include:

– Reference to the BFI Principles
– an explicit statement that you do not tolerate discrimination, racism, bullying or harassment: include specific examples of the kinds of behaviour you will not tolerate
– a commitment to investigating complaints – it is best practice to take a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, harassment and racism 
– a commitment to ensuring everyone you employ knows who they can report to
– a commitment to supporting the wellbeing and mental health of your employees
– an explicit statement that harassment on social media or online is included within the bounds of your policy
– a clear commitment that raising issues of harassment or bullying will not lead to victimisation and that such victimisation is unlawful
– to emphasise your zero-tolerance approach, a commitment that everyone will be treated equally, regardless of seniority, or status as an employee or freelancer

Make sure that you review your policy regularly.

3. Define and share the process

Ensure you have a clear process for investigating complaints before you need to put it into practice. Acas has further free guidance on this which you can adapt for your workplace or project.

– Where possible, appoint at least one, ideally two people of differing genders to be "welfare adviser/officer or designated persons," to help deal with incidents on set or any other workplace and include their details in call sheet. Ensure they receive appropriate advice and training 
– Alternatively, buy in third party HR support
– On call sheets: specify who is the "welfare adviser/officer or designated persons", link to the principles and any other relevant resources or help lines
– Induct all heads of department, team leaders and workers and ensure they are familiar with the principles and policy
– Post your policy, process or the principles on your website/LinkedIn profile, etc.
– Ask everyone in your employment to sign a declaration confirming they have read and understood the principles.
– Hold a mandatory meeting at the start of production or project outlining your commitment to the principles and to fairness and equality and detailing what kind of working environment you want.
– If possible, have a mid-point review part way through a project to remind people of their rights and responsibilities and an opportunity to raise things. You may want to do this in small groups.Where possible, include an obligation to comply with the principles in contracts.

Useful links 

2010 Equality Act:  definition of harassment (Section 26)

ACAS: A guide for managers and employers bullying and harassment at work

ACAS guidance on discrimination, bullying, harassment

ACAS policy paper: better solutions for tackling bullying and ill treatment in Britain’s workplace

BFI/BAFTA Anti-bullying Action List 

BFI: Practical workplace guide to the prevention of bullying and harassment in the screen industries

BFI: Principles to tackle bullying and harassment in the screen industries

Citizens Advice: bullying and harassment at work

EHRC technical guide - sexual harassment and harassment at work 

Film and TV Charity Support Line 

National Bullying Helpline: advice for managers

Pact Anti-bulling and harassment policy template

Sexual Offences Act 2003:  definition of sexual assault 

UK government advice on workplace bullying and harassment

UK government overview of employment tribunals

Why on-set abusive behaviour happens and how we can stop it

Writers' Guild of Great Britain: Creating Without Conflict campaign