Bullying at work

How to deal with workplace bullying

When talking about bullying, most people will think that it takes place only in the school playgrounds and classrooms, but for many adults, bullying has become the scourge of their work day and there often feels like there is no escape.

"The difference between a bully and a mistake is with the intent: the bully wants to wound, to have power over, to humiliate, and destroy." – Sherry Benson Podolchuk, 'Workplace Bullying And The Strategies I Used To Survive' Ted Talk, November 2015


What is bullying?

Whilst it may take the form of name calling, physical abuse, social bullying or even cyberbullying, in the workplace, bullying is a form of abusive behaviour where an individual or a group of people, create an intimidating or humiliating work environment for another. This is with the purpose of harming their dignity, safety and well-being. This can make those subjected to it anxious, depressed and it might affect their family life too. 

What bullying is not

You may hear many different opinions about bullying in the workplace banded around; many employers fail to see the legitimacy, or very real effects that a bully can have on an individual, and will try to frame bullying in such a way that it is seen as a non-issue.

You may hear managers describe bullying as many things, but it is certainly not:

  • A "clash of personalities" – If you are being systematically belittled, excluded, or intimidated, you are not just clashing with someone, this is bullying.
  • Character building – Negative remarks and actions towards you will not build any sort of character; the effects can be debilitating and have an effect on your emotional health.
  • A leadership style – Overly aggressive or dominant managers may try and pass bullying off as their "style" of management, but if you feel threatened, this is bullying.
  • Provoked by the victim – Bullying is never the victim's fault and is often motivated by the perpetrator's own insecurities or desire to progress up the career ladder.

It is important to remember that if you are being bullied, all incidents are relevant, because they establish a pattern.

Are you protected from bullying by the law?

Bullying itself is not against the law, but if a colleague or manager is behaving in an intimidating or offensive way, it could be harassment, which is illegal under the Equality Act 2010.

Examples of harassment include any unwanted behaviours regarding:

  • Your age, gender, sex, or sexuality
  • Your marital status, pregnancy, or maternity/paternity rights
  • Your race, religion, or beliefs
  • If you have a disability or additional needs

These are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

What to do if you are being bullied

In the first instance, you should seek to solve your problem informally. If you feel safe and comfortable speaking to the person you feel is bullying you, it is a good idea to do so, as informing them that you will be taking a more official route may be enough to stop their behaviour.

For many though, the informal way isn't an option, and if this is the case, you should make management, HR, or (if applicable) your trade union aware that you believe harassment is going on, and they should take the necessary steps to get the issue resolved.

If you are still not satisfied that the harassment has stopped, if it is not taken seriously by your line manager, or if the problem gets worse, you should seek to make an official complaint via the usual grievance procedures. Your employee handbook (any good employer will have one of these) will detail the process.

For some cases, the previous steps are not enough to solve the problem, and it is necessary to take legal action at an employment tribunal. This is usually in very severe cases of misconduct. Your employer has a legal obligation to protect you from abusive behaviour in the workplace.

Top tips to beat the bullies

If you are being bullied at work, there are several things you can do to maximise your chances of succeeding.

  • Get to know your company's policies on bullying and behaviour in the workplace, inside out. They should be detailed and applied at every level by management and supervisors should investigate any instances that are reported.
  • Document any incident of harassment in detail: this includes the date, times, place, who was involved, what happened, and the names of any witnesses.
  • Talk to someone about your problem. It could be another colleague, a friend, or even your family, you should not have to suffer harassment and certainly not alone.
  • It is a good idea to do your research around bullying and harassment, and it will be helpful to contact ACAS.

Further support 

If you have gone through all of the available avenues to stop a colleague bullying and harassing you at work, it may be time to discuss your options with an experienced employment lawyer.

Simpson Millar's nationwide team can offer you a range of fixed-fee and bespoke services so that you don't have to suffer in silence any more. We can give you straightforward, honest advice on your next best step, and represent you at a tribunal. There are other law firms that can give you legal advice too. You can also call our helpline for advice and support on 0808 800 2222.

Watch our workplace bullying webinar for advice and guidance 

Please feel free to download our poster on workplace bullying 

This article has been written by Simpson Millar Solicitors 

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