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What is Bullying? What is Harassment? We Have the Answer

You might not believe it but almost six in 10 people have suffered or seen bullying at work. The figure comes from new research commissioned by Slater and Gordon Lawyers who help employees who have been bullied at work. 

There is no legal definition of bullying, so there is no claim that can be brought for bullying per se. The online resource on workplace bullying, Bully Online, offers this definition from the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union: “bullying is the persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress.”

Workplace bullying can include a wide range of misconduct such as the following:

  • being threatened 
  • humiliation and ridicule 
  • unjust criticism and unfair treatment
  • exclusion or victimisation
  • being set up to fail by being given excessive amounts of work or impossible deadlines
  • being given pointless tasks to carry out
  • removal of work responsibilities
  • refusing requests for leave
  • blocking promotion or training opportunities

What is the Difference between Bullying and Harassment?

Harassment is a type of bullying, and in certain circumstances, is unlawful. If harassment relates to age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation (which are all known as “protected characteristics”), it is unlawful under the Equality Act.

The Equality Act defines harassment 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.” A claim for harassment under the Equality Act can be brought in the Employment Tribunal and if successful, will attract a compensation award for injury to feelings.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 prohibits the pursuit of a “course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another”. Harassment is conduct that causes alarm or distress. A course of conduct must involve such conduct on at least two occasions and the conduct in question must be akin to a criminal wrong. The Act was originally introduced to deter stalkers but also applies to workplace harassment. A claim under The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 can only be brought in either the County Court or the High Court, rather than in the Employment Tribunal.


I’m Being Bullied at Work. What Can I Do?

Whilst there is no specific protection against bullying, if you feel you are being bullied, you can lodge a grievance with your employer under your workplace grievance or harassment policy.

For more tips on what to do about being bullied at work see our blog 5 Steps to Deal With Bullying in the Workplace.

Can I Leave Work Due to Bullying or Harassment?

You should always take advice from an Employment Lawyer before leaving work due to bullying or harassment in order to best protect your legal position. If the treatment you are subject to at work is so bad that you no longer feel able to work for your employer, then you might be entitled to resign and claim constructive dismissal. That may then allow you to pursue a claim for unfair dismissal, discrimination or both in the Employment Tribunal.

Senior Employment Lawyer Julie Morris heads up the employment department at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

Slater and Gordon understands the difficult situations people suffer due to bullying and harassment at work. We can provide you with immediate representation anywhere in England and Wales.

You can call our Employment Law Solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9060 any time 24/7 or alternatively contact us online and we will call you back at a time when you are able to speak with us.

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