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Bullying in the Workplace is not just Confined to Westminster

View profile for Susan Mayall
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Workplace bullying can have many forms and has hit the headlines recently and made employees more aware of their own workplace situations.

Bullying is any type of abusive behaviour in the workplace and can be as a result of the employer or a colleague  - however staff can’t usually take action against their employer if they’ve been discriminated against by customers or staff from other companies, although their boss does have a duty to protect from discrimination if they know it’s happening.

A recent workplace survey shows that bullying makes staff less efficient and productive and can lead to absenteeism and if you have felt bullied in your place of work it's not a pleasant experience.

What to do About Workplace Bullying

Outlining an overview of workplace bullying, Pearson Solicitors head of employment law, Susan Mayall, has this advice for employees*:

  1. Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety at work. If the bullying you are experiencing is so severe that it is affecting your health then you may have a claim that the employer has constructively dismissed you by failing to comply with this duty (quite apart from a claim for psychiatric injury if this is clearly evidenced), if you decide to resign from your job.  You need specialist advice on both these matters.
  2. Check what your employer’s policy is (or if they have one) on bullying and harassment.  It is always more powerful to demonstrate to an employer that it is failing to comply with one of the policies it has drafted by its own hand!  Do those policies recommend training for the bully or workplace mediation for something that might be more manageable like a difference in personalities, or a genuine misunderstanding?
  3. If possible, keep a contemporaneous (at the time, or as near to the time as possible) note of the incidents which take place (and who was witness to them if relevant), although if this evidence stretches to hundreds of pages it might test the patience of an employer or tribunal judge.  However, I would not recommend that you covertly (without permission and unknown to the other party)record meetings as this could work against you or lead to disciplinary procedures against you.
  4. If the bullying is related to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act (e.g. your race, religion, sex, disability) then you may have a complaint of discrimination (known as harassment).  If you do decide to lodge a grievance and you are then treated badly (or worse) because of that you may have a claim under the Equality Act for Victimisation. 
  5. Lack of intention to bully is no defence for the bully and your employer has a legal duty to prevent harassment or discrimination, even where it has been genuinely unintentional.
  6. For extreme cases, you may be able to bring a claim under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 but this is a civil process in the county court which is a costs bearing regime, so not as accessible as Employment Tribunal.
  7. Do you really need to find a new job – your health is important even if you feel you have been pushed out.
  8. Be aware that tight timescales apply to claims of discrimination and breach of contract, so if you believe you have been bullied in the workplace, it is vital to obtain timely legal advice. 

“Your employer must have a zero-tolerance policy and take complaints of abuse seriously with clear guidelines on how you can report those incidents of bullying or harassment,” said Susan Mayall.

“If you feel you are being bullied, your situation might also be harassment under the Equality Act 2010 and you have employment rights and can take action under that law.  This harassment includes social media, sexual jokes, verbal abuse and rude gestures and your colleagues may say the behaviour was just friendly banter, but it might still be harassment if it meets the definition of harassment in the Equality Act. ,” she added.

Your employee is responsible for discrimination against you if you’re: an employee, an apprentice, a former employee, including casual and zero hours workers and some self-employed people and freelancers.

However, there are other rules to protect you if you’re employed by one business but work for another, such as agency workers.

The problems may also not be confined to your place of work but can include work-related events or business trips - like an office away day, also any social events organised by your employers such as an office party, a Christmas event or a work-related dinner.

Bullying and harassment in the workplace survey

A recent survey on bullying and harassment in the workplace, found that:

  • 34% feel anxious about seeing somebody they have a negative relationship with when they go back to the workplace
  • 30% of employees believe their employer could improve its culture and be more inclusive by providing a place to give anonymous feedback
  • 27% are more likely to report an incident now they’re working from home, compared to 41% of employees from BAME backgrounds and 38% of employees with varying abilities
  • 22% have experienced unacceptable behaviour in their workplace
  • 20% have witnessed unacceptable behaviour in their workplace
  • 15% would report an incident to their line manager but would feel worried about the repercussions
  • 13% know somebody else that something serious has happened to in the workplace
  • 12% of employees say they have experienced serious bullying and harassment in the workplace
  • 11% would report an incident, but only if they could do so anonymously

“Given the productivity problems, lack of morale and general unpleasantness that a culture of workplace bullying brings about it makes sense for employers to tackle it.  It might seem hard to stand up to colleagues and bosses but only when staff stand up for their rights, record all instances and are brave enough to confront their employers can a shift in attitude take place and workplace bullying and harassment be stamped out,” added Susan.

For confidential advice on workplace bullying and harassment call Susan Mayall on 0161 785 3500 or email enquiries@pearsonlegal.co.uk

*References Daniel Barnett - Help - I'm being bullied at work: a practical guide for anyone whose manager is bullying them https://youtu.be/KcehmEBg-2k 

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.