Bullying in the Workplace

24 November 2017

If you are being bullied at work it can be very distressing and you may consider leaving your job. It’s important to address any instance of bullying as early as possible to limit the impact that it could have on your professional or personal life.

What to Do if You’re Being Bullied at Work

If you believe that you are being bullied at work, it’s important to try to resolve the situation before it gets to a point where you feel you can no longer cope. It’s a good idea to keep a written record of the bullying behaviour and also details of any meetings or correspondence that you have regarding the bullying.

If you feel comfortable doing so, you could initially speak to the person (or people) responsible for the bullying. Sometimes telling someone that their behaviour is unacceptable is sufficient to put a stop to it. You could write to them if you do not want to speak to them directly.

If you do not feel comfortable with this or if it’s not effective, then the next step would be to report the behaviour to your employer. This could be your line manager, or if they are involved in the bullying then a HR representative or more senior manager could be approached instead. It’s a good idea to think in advance about what steps you would like your employer to take to resolve the issue, so that you could discuss these with them.

If this doesn’t resolve the issue, then the next step would be to raise a grievance or make a formal complaint to your employer.

If none of these steps work and the bullying does fall under the definition of harassment, then you could take legal action by raising an Employment Tribunal harassment claim.

How is Bullying Different to Harassment?

Bulling and harassment both result in an employee feeling that they have been mistreated by someone in their workplace. This could be a manager, a colleague or even someone who doesn’t work for the same employer, such as a client, customer or supplier.

Bullying in itself is not legally defined in England and Wales and is not against the law. ACAS is a Government body which provides help and advice on workplace disputes. ACAS defines workplace bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the person being bullied.”

Bullying can take many forms, including:

  • Physical bullying, such as causing physical harm or injury to the victim
  • Verbal bullying, such as using offensive language, insulting the victim or spreading malicious rumours
  • Non-verbal bullying, such as unfair treatment, denying the victim training or promotion opportunities, or excluding them from social events or meetings for no reason
  • Written bullying, such as using notes, emails or letters to insult or offend the victim.

With regards to harassment, there is a clear legal definition for this in England and Wales, and harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act of 2010. Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct relating to the following “protected characteristics”:

  • Gender (including gender reassignment)
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation.

Harassment could be in the form of something said, either verbally or in writing, which is intended to violate the victim’s dignity. Or it may be said with the intention of creating an environment that’s hostile, intimidating, degrading humiliating or offensive for the victim.

The Law on Bullying in the Workplace

It’s not possible to bring an Employment Tribunal claim for bullying on its own, but bullying and harassment are often very closely linked. If the behaviour in question actually amounts to harassment, then a claim can be brought on the grounds of harassment.nSometimes behaviour that is considered to be bullying might constitute harassment, particularly if it involves a protected characteristic.

Evidence of bullying can also be used to support other claims. For example, if an employee feels that they have no choice but to resign from their role because of the behaviour of their employer, then the employee may choose to bring a claim for Constructive Dismissal, and cite their employer’s behaviour as the reason for this.

Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace. This behaviour will almost always have a negative impact on staff morale, productivity and efficiency, and can even result in resignations. So it is also in the best interests of the employer to prevent employees suffering workplace bullying and/or harassment.

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