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Workplace Bullying in the UK

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As an employer, it is your responsibility to prevent bullying and harassment at work.

Bullying can take many forms, so to stop it rearing its ugly head in your workplace, it is strongly advised that you implement a policy on bullying.

ITV’s recent compelling drama, “Sticks and Stones”, written by Mike Bartlett, creator of Dr Foster, revealed just how insidious and nasty workplace bullying can be, and how situations can easily spiral out of control if employers fail to call it out.

Disturbing to watch, the drama’s plot centres on diligent, thirty-something dad, husband and office middle manager Thomas, who sees his professional life unravel after colleagues embark on a sustained campaign to undermine him. Set up to fail by several co-workers, Thomas’s case is extreme, but the series shows how even seemingly innocuous acts, like leaving “jokey” post-it notes on someone’s desk, can potentially add up to bullying behaviour.

When Thomas finally finds the courage to report his bullies to senior management, his boss tells him to “stand up for himself”, which is definitely not the way any employer should be handling an allegation of bullying.

Examples of Workplace Bullying

Bullying at work can include everything from constantly picking on someone and deliberately excluding them from workplace activities (freezing them out), through to setting them unrealistic work deadlines and preventing their career progression by blocking promotion.

Other forms of bullying include spreading false rumours about someone, ignoring their views and opinions and humiliating them in public. It can happen in person, by email, in phone calls and via social media.

Sometimes the bully is not even aware of what they are doing, perhaps dismissing their unwanted and frequent teasing of a colleague as “just banter”.

A 2018 TUC survey of safety representatives identified bullying and harassment as the second biggest workplace issue after stress.

No sector is immune, with status and seniority no bar to being bullied. In some work environments bullying behaviour might be accepted or even condoned, as part of the organisation’s culture.

Often a symptom of deficient leadership and poor management style, it is sometimes endemic, with bullied managers responding to undue pressure from above by bullying the people under their supervision.

Bullying and Harassment Law

Bullying is not unlawful, but harassment is. Harassment is defined in the Equality Act 2010 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”.

It relates to the following protected characteristics:

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

Risks Caused by Bullying

Bullying at work is bad for business as well as people. Left unchecked or poorly handled, it can result in bad staff morale, employee absence, poor performance, low productivity and high staff turnover. It can also harm your business’s reputation and can ultimately lead to an employment tribunal.

How to Tackle Workplace Bullying

To avoid bullying, you should consider adopting a clear policy on workplace bullying and harassment.

Contained within your employee handbook, this policy should state that bullying and harassment is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. It should also set out what steps will be taken in the event of a complaint, and state that complainants can be assured of confidentiality.

As an employer, you are liable for any harassment your employees suffer, and even without a policy on bullying, you still have a duty of care to your staff. Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect at work.

HR:4UK has many years’ experience advising employers on workplace bullying and harassment issues. We can provide your employees with contracts of employment and policies, such as Anti-Harassment and Bullying, through our cloud-based Employee Handbooks system. This removes the manual burden of producing and maintaining company policies. It is also ideal to meet new law changes, which from 1 April 2020 requires all employees and workers to be provided with written Contracts of Employment right from their first day of work. For more information on how we can help you contact us today 01455 444222 | [email protected]

Angela Clay

A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.