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Employment law

Tackling workplace bullying: examples and top tips

We explore your legal rights when facing, or having witnessed, bullying in the workplace, with examples on how to stand against this behaviour.

17 November 2021

Examples of bullying at work

Bullying in the workplace is behaviour from an individual or a group that’s unwanted and makes someone feel uncomfortable. It can be a misuse of power that can be offensive and intimidating towards a person, making them feel humiliated, threatened and vulnerable.

While many people consider a certain amount of 'banter' at work to be reasonable, the fact is that it's all too common for banter to cross the line from being 'a bit of fun' to unpleasant bullying.

Bullying at work examples include:

  • Excessive criticism, particularly in front of others
  • Being unfairly excluded from team activities, meetings or communications
  • Constant teasing, verbal abuse or sexual innuendo
  • Threats with regard to your job security
  • Being humiliated or demeaned in front of others
  • Cyber/online bullying

In addition to these forms of bullying, you could experience harassment at work. The legal definition of harassment under the Equality Act 2010 is: "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".

The protected characteristics are:

Importantly, discriminatory jokes or comments about any of these protected characteristics don't have to be directed towards you in order to constitute harassment. If they're made in your earshot, even accidentally, they can still potentially count as harassment.

It’s also the case that if a person believes you possess a protected characteristic, and treats you unfairly based on their assumption, this can still be unlawful - regardless of whether their assumption is correct.

How prevalent is workplace bullying?

A 2020 report from The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that just over a third of people experiencing conflict in the workplace reported ‘bullying, intimidation or harassment’ as the cause, with women more likely than men to report that they’d experienced bullying, intimidation or harassment (40% versus 31%).

The data also showed that employees working in the public sector were significantly more likely to say they’d experienced workplace bullying (21% compared with 14% in the private sector and 10% in the voluntary sector).

The report also found that almost a third (31%) of the employees in the survey who’d experienced conflict said the person they reported it to didn’t take it seriously, and almost half (48%) felt the other party’s interests took precedence.

Our tips for handling bullying at work

Whether you’re on the receiving end of bullying at work, or whether you’ve witnessed it, there are a number of steps you can take to resolve the situation:

1. Firstly, you should look to resolve the problem informally. The person or people in question may not realise how their behaviour is making you or your colleague feel. You could speak to them in person, or if you don’t feel comfortable you could explain your position via email.

2. Next (or perhaps if you don’t feel comfortable with the first step), you should speak to someone you trust via an informal meeting. This could be your line manager, another manager, a union representative, or a member of the HR department to discuss your concerns. It may also be a good idea to have an additional impartial person (such as a member of the HR team or a union representative) attend this meeting.

You can also utilise your employers’ whistleblowing policy and procedures.

3. If this doesn’t work, and you don’t feel that the behaviour has changed, you should make a formal complaint, ensuring that there’s a record of all communications and following your employer’s grievance or bullying procedure. Your employer has a duty of care to ensure that your concerns are addressed per their policies.

4. If after the above step, you still don’t feel that your concerns have been addressed and the behaviour hasn’t improved, you may be able to take legal action at an Employment Tribunal and you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Your rights

If you believe you’ve been bullied at work, and you don’t feel that your concerns have been taken seriously or resolved, it’s important to speak out and take action. This is particularly so as there are strict time limits in which to make complaints in the Employment Tribunal. No one should have to deal with this behaviour when simply doing their job, and if you’re experiencing bullying at work, you have a legal right to make a claim and take steps towards a brighter future.

However, it can sometimes be quite complex to identify whether you’re dealing with workplace bullying to those without specific expertise. For this reason, we recommend speaking to an employment lawyer in the first instance to find out whether you have a case.

When to seek advice

Time is of the essence, because you only have three months minus one day from the date of the last act of workplace discrimination, workplace harassment or bullying in which to commence the early conciliation process with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).

Our employment team are experts in workplace harassment law and bullying at work. Get in touch today on 0330 041 5869 to find out if you have a case, or, if you prefer, you can contact us via our online form or web chat.

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