Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the workplace is something that no employee should have to encounter and businesses are encouraged to take a zero tolerance approach. It is important to understand that bullying can include offensive, insulting or malicious behaviour which is used to undermine, denigrate, humiliate or harm the recipient in some way.

Bullying in the workplace can involve an individual or group of people and it can be caused by an individual such as a colleague or manager.

Bullying in the Workplace

There are many instances of bullying in the workplace including;

  • Spreading false rumours which are malicious, insulting them or displaying a certain type of behaviour such as demeaning someone or deliberately setting them up to fail
  • Excluding an employee or victimisation
  • Treating an employee unfairly
  • Being overbearing with supervision or misusing power
  • Unwanted physical contact
  • Making threats or comments about their job without sufficient means for doing so
  • Deliberately undermining a competent worker
  • Constant criticism or deliberately overloading them with work
  • Blocking opportunities for promotion or training

Bullying does not have to be face to face. With the internet it can be using social media or in any other form of written communication or telephone.

When an employee experiences bullying they may feel humiliated and anxious about their work and they may feel angry about the situation but do not know how to deal with it or who to ask for help. People cope with bullying in different ways, some may retaliate while others may become withdrawn, frightened or their work may suffer.

The stress associated with workplace bullying can reduce self confidence and can result in feelings of job insecurity, illness, absence from work or in some instances the employee may feel that they have no other option but to resign.

The Law

Employers have a duty to their employees to prevent bullying in the workplace. If it is brought to their attention that it is happening, they must take appropriate action to stop it quickly. Bullying and harassment are very closely related in the workplace.

Under The Equality Act 2010, a single definition is used to define harassment in accordance with protected characteristics. Employees are within their rights to make a complaint about worrying behaviour that they find offensive even if it is not directed at them.

Unless bullying relates to conduct that falls under harassment in the Equality Act from 2010, an employee cannot make a claim to an Employment Tribunal.

Unfair Dismissal

In the eyes of the law, an employer has a duty of care to each employee. If mutual trust and confidence is broken between an employee and employer an employee can resign and claim constructive dismissal on the grounds of breach of contract. This can only be carried out though if the employee has been employed for two years or more.

Health and Safety

Breach of contract claims can also be brought against an employer if they fail to protect your health and safety.

What action can an employee take?

If you have been a victim of bullying or harassment while at work there are a number of things that you can do. Sometimes employees may not realise that the behaviour of a colleague or manager falls under bullying or harassment.

As an employee, there are a number of steps that you can take;

  • Consult the organisational policy in relation to standards of behaviour
  • Speak to your immediate supervisor or manager about your concerns
  • Talk to a senior member of staff about adapting your work so you can cope more effectively.

In England and Wales there is no specific legislation that you can turn to for bullying at work.

Eliminating Bullying from the Workplace

Employers are under an obligation to eliminate bullying at work and they should draft detailed policies and procedures which outline their process for dealing with bullying and/or harassment in the workplace.

Policies should include;

  • Examples of what constitutes bullying – This should also include through online mediums such as social media
  • An explanation of how bullying can affect an employee and a statement from the employer to say that it will not be tolerated
  • Clear statements that describe what will happen if an employee is found to be bullying someone including disciplinary proceedings
  • The possible legal implications of workplace bullying should be stated
  • Describe the different levels of accountability assigned to the various managers and/or supervisors within the business
  • A clear outline of the relevant company policy for bullying including the process of investigating incidents in and out of the workplace, the provision of any advice, guidance or where required counselling and formal procedures for dealing with it

Once the policy document has been drafted, employers should make sure that they;

  • Distribute the policy to all employees including those who are employed on a contract or part time
  • Deliver any training and ensure that bullying and harassment is covered in induction training
  • Update the document if there are any changes in the law

If a complaint is raised in the workplace in relation to bullying or harassment, a copy of the policy is distributed to all parties who are involved

Responsibility of an Employee

While employers have specific obligations in terms of bullying, so too do employees. An employee should conduct themselves in such a way that promotes cohesive and harmonious working.

They should also ensure that they do not create a hostile working environment and each employee should play their own role in ensuring that the policy developed by their employer is fully implemented and complied with at all times.

Any inappropriate behaviour should be reported and any concerns should be raised with an immediate manager or supervisor.

No one attending work should have to put up with bullying of any kind. Employers should take the required action to communicate their zero tolerance approach to bullying and take appropriate and suitable action for any employee who is acting inappropriately towards a colleague, irrespective of their seniority.

Bullying in the workplace is serious and it is important that employers and employees work collaboratively to ensure that it is eliminated from the workplace entirely.

About the author:

This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.