Anyone unfortunate enough to have experienced workplace bullying will be the first to testify that this type of behaviour is not confined to the school playground. Finding yourself on the receiving end of unwanted attention from a bully at work can invoke a wide range of issues that can take a very real toll on both your mental and physical health. Bullying can lead to depression and poor sleep, it can affect relationships with family and friends and may even cause post-traumatic stress disorder.

Is Bullying Against the Law?

It might come as a surprise to some that bullying itself is not illegal. While it is an unpleasant act, the law cannot enforce warnings or punishments on someone who is caught to be bullying another person; however, harassment is against the law. Harassment is any negative or unwanted behaviour in relation to a protected characteristic, including:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sexual orientation

What Constitutes for Bullying in the Workplace?

According to ACAS, bullying can be characterised as ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’.

Bullying is not limited to face-to-face interactions; insulting or threatening emails, phone calls and text messages are considered as bullying, too.

Some examples of behaviour that could be classified as bullying include:

  • Regularly and deliberately ignoring or excluding individuals from work activities.
  • Consistently attacking a member of staff in terms of their professional or personal standing.
  • Constant criticism despite good performance.
  • Having responsibilities removed or being given trivial tasks to do.
  • Shouting at staff.
  • Persistently picking on people in front of others or in private.
  • Setting a person up to fail by overloading them with work or setting impossible deadlines.
  • Regularly making the same person the butt of jokes.
  • Discriminating on the grounds of someone’s gender, race, disability, age, religion or sexual orientation.
  • Blocking promotion.

What to do if you’re being Bullied at Work

If you feel that you are a victim of bullying, it is crucial that you speak up. It’s neither fair on you to have to suffer at the hands, words or otherwise unfair treatment of others, nor is it acceptable for them to act as such in the first place.

However, while there is no reason why you shouldn’t look after yourself in this situation, try to bear in mind that there is a difference between a superior criticising your performance or attitude – when it’s justified – and actual bullying. Accusing someone of bullying is serious, so be sure that’s what is happening before you act. We can all let our pride and emotions get the better of us from time to time.  

The best first move is to talk to the bully. If you think you can, of course. There’s every chance that they have no idea that they’ve made you feel victimised and will likely feel terrible when they realise that what they considered to be a joke was something completely different to you. This being the case, asking them to stop what they have been doing to upset you and to be more mindful of your feelings might be the (simple) solution to your problem.

As much as we would all like to believe that our colleagues wouldn’t actively seek to victimise us, bullying in the workplace is an unfortunate reality and so, while misunderstandings can happen, this is not likely to always be the case.

Before making any moves to report your bully, research your company’s policies to find out their approach with regards to workplace harassment. Your employer has a duty of care towards your health, safety and welfare while you are at work and if you are being bullied, they have a responsibility to investigate and put a stop to the issue.

Keep a log of the harassment – every time you are bullied, make a note of the time, date and what happened. This will make it harder for the bully to deny, easier for your employer to discipline and will also serve as vital evidence in the event that your case needs to be taken to an employment tribunal.  

Once you have your evidence, have a conversation with your manager. Show them what you have recorded and explain what has been happening and for what length of time. Don’t be afraid to express how the bullying is affecting you, either, both personally and professionally.

Your manager will then be able to help you by going through the appropriate channels.

Click here for more information on what to do if you feel you are being bullied in the workplace. 

How to Prevent Workplace Bullying from Occurring

Bullying and harassment in the workplace can have a truly negative impact on your staff and, in turn, your company, leading to:

  • Poor morale and employee relations.
  • Loss of respect for management.
  • Poor performance.
  • Lost productivity.
  • Absence/resignations.
  • Legal proceedings which could also lead to compensation.

As an employer, it’s in your best interest to provide a positive and productive workplace for everyone and it’s the right of your employees to work in an environment where they feel valued and confident that they won’t become the victim of someone else’s unpleasant behaviour.

Your care of duty to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all staff in your employment should lead you to consider several key points that will help you to prevent bullying or harassment occurring in your company.

Have a formal policy – By creating and implementing a zero-tolerance policy, you can clearly outline to your workforce where you stand in regard to bullying. It can be a simple document, but you should consider involving you staff when you write it.

Lead by example – Staff look to their employers and management for an example of how to behave in the work environment. Having a formal policy in place is one thing, but it won’t mean much to your staff if you don’t adhere to it yourself. Put your best foot forward at all times and your employees will most likely follow suit.

Maintain procedures – Bullying is serious and, while it should be the case for all company policies, the rules laid out in your zero-tolerance policy should be a one-size-fits-all deal. There’s no room for one rule for one and another for many. It’s important that you maintain fair and across the board procedures when dealing with complaints from employees.

Make standards of behaviour known – Set out the standards of behaviour expected of your employees in a place other than your policy – perhaps the staff handbook. This information should be available in multiple mediums and should be made known to all staff from the moment they begin employment.

How to Respond to Workplace Bullying as an Employer

Despite your efforts to prevent bullying from happening in your company, occasionally, there might be an instance when you do have to deal with a bullying complaint. If this happens, address the situation immediately.

If your company has a Human Resources department, bring it to their attention and make sure that you are following company guidelines for addressing workplace bullying and harassment – don’t worry if you need to re-read your zero-tolerance policy first. Getting it right is what’s important.

Some companies just starting out or simply small in numbers may not have a HR department, in which case, you should sit down for a conversation with the individual who is bullying their colleague to talk about their actions. Make sure you document everything, including:

  • Details of the incident(s).
  • Dates, times and witnesses.
  • Information about your meeting.

At the end of the meeting, inform the offending employee of the consequences of their actions and what will happen should the bullying continue.

The situation will need to be monitored to ensure that the bullying doesn’t persist, and you should make a point of following up with the victim. Being the subject of bullying can have a lasting effect, so it’s important to make sure that they are okay and have the correct support in place if they need it.

Further Information

Most employees are very hot on keeping on top of bullying and harassment; however, should you or a colleague be experiencing unpleasant or unwanted behaviour from someone at work and don’t feel you can talk to your employer, or that they aren’t handling it in the right way, contact ACAS for further advise.