Bullying at work: how to take action

When we think of bullying, it’s often in terms of schoolchildren, something that exists in the playground and carried out by those who will change their ways once they have grown up.

Sadly, this isn’t always the case, and bullying can exist in all walks of life and at any age. The Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS) is the largest survey of workplaces in Britain, and has found incidences of reported bullying have risen – three percent of workplaces with 10 or more employees recorded one grievance related to bullying and harassment in the year prior to 1998, with this figure rising to seven percent in 2004.

Add to this a 2011 study by public sector union Unison, which found six out of 10 workers had either been bullied or seen incidences of bullying, with the majority too scared to report it, and a worrying pattern starts to emerge. Being bullied can make you feel miserable and lacking in confidence – but when you’re worried your career may be damaged if you report it, then you can find yourself bottling up your feelings and dreading going into work.

Nobody should ever feel this way, and there are some steps you can take to counteract bullying and start to enjoy your day job again.

Bullying and harassment: is there a difference?

It can be tempting to think of these as one and the same thing, but by definition they are different. While there is no legal definition of bullying, Acas defines it as ‘…any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended.’ And under the Equality Act 2010, harassment is ‘unwanted conduct which is related to one of the following: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation and is therefore unlawful.’ The Health and Safety Executive views bullying as a pattern of behaviour, whereas harassment can be a single incident. However, anyone who has ever felt bullied knows that once can be more than enough.

Bullying behaviour in the workplace can take on many forms, such as constant criticism, unreasonable expectations, being excluded, blocking promotion or making unfounded comments and veiled threats about your job security. Harassment could take the form of homophobic comments, mocking a disability or unwelcome sexual advances or language.

Both can be between two individuals or groups of people, and can be face to face, online or in written communications. And none are acceptable.

What to do if you are being bullied or harassed

It can feel daunting to raise the issue at work, but if you are feeling miserable going into work every day then you will feel better taking action than simply waiting for matters to resolve themselves.

You might feel that you can resolve things informally, or at least try to in the first instance. This could be a conversation with your manager or HR, or chatting with colleagues who may be able to offer support or a member of your trade union if you have one. But if an informal approach doesn’t work, then you could consider lodging a grievance. From here, your company will need to carry out an investigation – therefore, it’s always a good idea to keep a diary of events. This is helpful because it allows you to present a clear, unemotional viewpoint and highlight emails or written communications to support your claim. It will also present a timeline if the bullying has been persistent.

It’s important to note that in some cases the bully in question may be your line manager. While this can make it more daunting to report, you can lodge your grievance with HR or with their own senior manager. Never feel that someone is too ‘senior’ to be held to account for their behaviour in the workplace.

Following the investigation, you should be told whether your grievance has been upheld and notified of any disciplinary actions against the perpetrator. If you’re not successful, you can still appeal the decision.

If you’re feeling the stress of workplace bullying is affecting your physical or mental health then it’s worth visiting your GP for advice.

If you’ve left your job due to bullying

Sometimes it all becomes too much and you simply decide you can’t take it any more. If you have resigned because of workplace bullying or harassment which your employer has failed to tackle, then it may be possible to make a claim for constructive dismissal (if you have two years’ service with the organisation) on the basis your employer has breached their contract.

It is always recommended you lodge a grievance before you resign, otherwise your damages awarded could be reduced. You may also have a claim for harassment under the Equality Act if the harassment occurs because of a protected characteristic.

In both of these cases it’s important to file your claim within the correct timelines – this is three months minus a day since the last instance of harassment, or three months minus a day from your last date of employment, in constructive dismissal cases.

No one should feel bullied, harassed, intimidated or undermined in the workplace. If you feel this is happening to you, it’s important to take steps now to protect your wellbeing.

The Lester Aldridge employment team deal with these and other issues on a regular basis.

lester-aldridge-logo

With offices in Bournemouth, Southampton and London, the employment team can support you and your business in all their HR and employment needs.

Catharine Geddes and the team have a wealth of experience across both public and private sectors in large corporations and SME or owner-managed businesses or for you as an employee.

From staffing issues, policies, handbooks, contract and director service agreements to restructuring, redundancy, TUPE, discrimination and whistleblowing or for your individual employee issues, we have the skills and experience to deliver results. Whatever your employment or HR need, call the team on 01202 786148 now.

Catharine Geddes

About Catharine Geddes

The Lester Aldridge LLP employment team deal with these and other issues on a regular basis. With offices in Bournemouth, Southampton and London, the employment team can support you and your business in all their HR and employment needs. Catharine Geddes and the team have a wealth of experience across both public and private sectors in large corporations and SME or owner-managed businesses or for you as an employee. From staffing issues, policies, handbooks, contract and director service agreements to restructuring, redundancy, TUPE, discrimination and whistleblowing or for your individual employee issues, we have the skills and experience to deliver results. Whatever your employment or HR need, call the team on 01202 786148 now.