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Bullying In The Workplace

If you are being intimidated at work, whether it is by your boss or by any other staff member, it is tantamount to bullying in the workplace.

Bullying v/s Harassment

Bullying and harassment are quite similar and the terms are often used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between the two. Understanding this difference is important because harassment is considered unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 but bullying isn’t. You can initiate legal action against anyone who harasses you but you cannot file a legal claim directly against bullying.

If you are being bullied at work and you want to do something about it, you may be able to file a complaint under laws covering harassment and discrimination.

Harassment –

The law defines harassment in the workplace as any unwanted conduct that affects the dignity of any worker. It could be an isolated incident or persistent or  and may be related to age, sex, religion, disability, nationality, race, sexual orientation or any personal trait of the person involved. The key is that the comments or actions are looked upon as humiliating and unacceptable by the recipient.

Bullying –

Bullying in the workplace could take the form of offensive, abusive, malicious or intimidating behaviour or misuse of power with the intention of undermining, humiliating or belittling the person it is being directed towards.

Bullying and harassment may be obvious or insidious. They can happen face-to-face or by phone, post or email.

Actions That Are Considered Bullying In The Workplace

Bullying may range from humiliation and verbal abuse to physical violence and undermining someone’s confidence. Whatever form it takes, it is unwarranted and can be very distressing and stressful.

Bullying in the workplace may involve any of these actions:

  • Spreading malicious rumours.
  • Making offensive or intimidating comments.
  • Picking on someone for no apparent reason.
  • Being humiliated in front of colleagues.
  • Denying training or promotion opportunities.
  • Blamed unfairly for problems caused by others.
  • Deliberately undermining a competent worker.
  • Withholding information so that the job cannot be completed.
  • Physical or verbal abuse.
  • Regularly treated unfairly.
  • Constantly making threats about job security without any cause.
  • Constantly being set up to fail by imposing unreasonable or impossible deadlines or workloads.
  • Exclusion from common activities.
  • Unwelcome sexual advances, which could include touching, suggestive looks or sexual innuendo.
  • Making work decisions based on sexual advances being accepted or thwarted.
  • Overbearing supervision.

Effects Of Bullying In The Workplace

Bullying may not be considered unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 but that does not mean you have to tolerate it. Bullying can have a serious impact on your physical, mental and emotional health and is absolutely unacceptable.

Some people who are bullied may feel angry and frustrated at not being able to cope with the situation whereas others may become frightened and de-motivated. Loss of self-esteem and loss of self-confidence are common fallouts of bullying and can lead to frequent absence from work due to illness, stressed relations at home and job insecurity. Job performance is almost always affected and some people feel forced to resign because they find the situation unbearable.

What Should You Do If You Are Being Bullied At Work

According to the law, employers have a ‘duty of care’ towards their employees. This means they have to make sure that their workers have a safe, healthy and happy environment to work in. This includes ensuring that they are not being bullied or harassed.

There are measures you can take if you are being bullied in the workplace.

  1. Keep a written record. Whether the bullying is ongoing or it was an isolated incident, keep a written record of all incidents, no matter how small and trivial it may seem at the time. Include as many details as possible including the date and time, the exact words that were used, where the incident took place and if there were any witnesses.
  2. Talk to the bully. It may seem hard to believe but sometimes the person bullying you may not realise what they are doing or the effect it is having on you. Give them the benefit of doubt and discuss the situation calmly and politely. Explain that what is happening is unacceptable. If you feel you would rather not speak to the person directly, you could request someone else to do it on your behalf.
  3. Get some advice. If talking to the bully does not stop the behaviour, speak to your supervisor or manager or someone from the human resources department or an employee representative and ask for advice on how you might deal with the situation informally.
  4. Make a formal complaint. If the problem does not get resolved informally, it may be time to take things up another level and file a formal complaint. To do, it is important to first find out if your employer has a grievance procedure in place. If a grievance procedure exists, make sure you follow it so that you don’t lose the case on a technicality. If there is no laid down grievance procedure in your workplace, you may follow the statutory grievance procedure.
  5. Consider taking legal action. If all the above steps prove fruitless and nothing is being done to put things right, you could think about taking legal action. This may mean going to an employment tribunal.

Note: Getting professional advice before taking this final step is crucial. You cannot go to an employment tribunal directly over bullying. Besides, it may be difficult to prove. An experienced employment solicitor will be able to help you construct your case so that your complaint can be filed under laws covering discrimination and harassment.