Bullying in the workplace


Acas defines bullying as unwanted behaviour from a person or group that has the effect of making an employee feel frightened, upset, less respected than others or that they are being made fun of. 

A report by the CIPD (Chartered Institute for Professional Development) which surveyed over 2,000 people, revealed that 15% of them admitted to being bullied in the workplace at some point in the past three years. More shockingly, half of them did not report it.

Bullying within the workplace can take many forms including,

  • Being given more workloads.
  • Being rudely spoken to.
  • Being ignored.
  • Constant put downs and remarks about your work.
  • Personal insults, for example about your appearance or the way you talk
  • Racist, homophobic language.
  • Unwanted sexual advances, sexual harassment or misconduct.
  • Unreasonable requests to do something.
  • Attempts to shame you in front of colleagues.
  • Threats or intimidation tactics.
  • Attempts to turn other colleagues against you.
  • Spreading lies and rumours about you.
The list goes on.

Bullying can be a regular pattern of behaviour or a one-off incident. It can sometimes not be obvious to others. It can happen face to face or across many social media platforms and by phone or email. It can happen within the workplace and outside the workplace.

When bullying might be classed as harassment

Harassment is when bullying or unwanted behaviour is about any of the following ‘protected characteristics’ under discrimination law (Equality Act 2010):

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Harassment because of pregnancy or maternity is treated differently and be classed as direct discrimination.

On the 7th March 2023 a new treaty will come into force. The UK will be the eleventh country to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Violence and Harassment convention. When this does happen, employers will have a new duty to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace as part of this international agreement.

The treaty will protect employees irrespective of their contractual status, meaning it will protect interns, job applicants, apprentices, and those whose employment has been terminated. It will apply to all the work areas within an organisation including break out rooms, staff rooms, kitchen areas, work trips and commuting. It will also apply to any form of work-related virtual meetings.

What should we do?

Bullying can sometimes be obvious, but more often it is done more subtly, leading to victims feeling isolated and alone. It may be hard to know what to look for, or what exactly constitutes as bullying.

Many people who are bullied will produce a lower quality of work, take more time off and seem very distracted and anxious

An organisation should have a policy on bullying that says how it should be handled.

Even if there’s no policy in place, the employer has a legal duty of care to protect their staff whilst they are at work. This includes dealing with bullying issues.

If a member of staff leaves their job because of bullying and you as an organisation did nothing about it, they might be able to make a claim against your organisation possibly leading to an employment tribunal for constructive dismissal.

  • Ensure as an organisation you have a clear bullying and harassment policy that all staff are aware of.
  • Enforce that any kind of bullying behaviour will not be tolerated.
  • Managers can be trained in how to deal with situations and staff can be taught what to look for and how to react.
  • Use specific examples from the bullying and harassment policy, not just something generic.
  • Display anti-bullying posters to notice boards.
  • Display helpful numbers and websites that can help and hold annual awareness days to reinforce that it will not be tolerated.
  • Take all staff complaints seriously and investigate thoroughly.

If you would like more information regarding a bullying and harassment policies for your business, please get in touch. We would love to help.

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