Bullying at Work
What is bullying at work?
There is no legal definition of bullying but it is often characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates or injures the receiving party. Employees sometimes feel bullied by colleagues, managers or third parties. Sometimes managers feel bullied by their employees. Certainly, a hostile work environment is not conducive to good labour relations and often leads to claims.
Can we help?
- If you are an employee and you feel you are being bullied at work or if there is a hostile work environment take a look at our bullying and harassment representation service.
- If you are an employer and need advice managing a bullying complaint, please take a look at our effective disciplinary procedures page.
Are bullying and harassment the same?
The terms bullying and harassment are often used interchangeably. Many definitions include bullying as a form of harassment.
However, unless bullying at work amounts to conduct defined as harassment in the Equality Act 2010 it is not possible to make a complaint to an Employment Tribunal about it. The Equality Act sets out a series of protected characteristics. If bullying takes place because of these characteristics, the law sees the behaviour as harassment, not bullying.
Examples of bullying behaviour
- Deliberately undermining a competent employee by overloading or regular and unfounded criticism;
- Spreading malicious rumours about an employee;
- A hostile work environment made worse by one or more individuals;
- Intimidating language or body language in meetings;
- Ignoring people;
- Preventing employees from progressing by blocking promotion opportunities and training.
Bullying at work is often hard to recognise, symptoms may not be obvious to others as the receiving party may be too frightened to tell anyone. Bullying can happen face to face, by letter, by email or phone.
What should employees do if they are being bullied at work?
Check out our employee service bullying and harassment representation.
In the first instance, depending on how serious the bullying is, a person who feels they are being bullied may wish to speak to their aggressor and try and deal with the problem informally. In some cases this is not appropriate and the employee may need to involve a manager or other third party. In the most serious cases, for instance where there has been physical violence or threats, it may be appropriate to involve the police.
The employee should consult their employer’s anti bullying policy if they have one, and the grievance procedure if they don’t.
Often an employee will wish make a formal written complaint using the employer’s grievance procedure. If this doesn’t work and the employee is still being bullied the employee should take advice and may be able to take their matter to an Employment Tribunal for constructive dismissal or harassment , if the bullying conduct amounts to harassment.
How should a manager address allegations of bullying at work?
It is very important that allegations of bullying at work – or identifying a hostile work environment – are treated seriously and dealt with quickly and efficiently. Please check out our disciplinary procedures advice service.
Allegations need to be investigated thoroughly, and a formal hearing will probably be necessary. If bullying allegations are upheld, an employer will need to be seen to take decisive action to punish the aggressor and to protect the victim. In many cases bullying is deemed to be gross misconduct and the aggressor will often be dismissed.
Sometimes bullying complaints are “two way” with both sides claiming they are being bullied by the other. Such situations can be highly complex to sort out, and coming to a decision can be challenging.
If an aggressor is not dismissed, employers will often involve work place counsellors or other parties to ensure as far as possible that the bullying is not repeated.
If an investigation identifies that there is generally a hostile work environment, it would be sensible to consider implementing organisation-wide strategies to change the culture. For more on this, do call us on 0845 225 2635.
Performance management and bullying
Employers have a right to manage their employees, and that includes managing the employee’s performance. If an employee is not performing to the standard required, an employer will often begin on a formal process of closely monitoring the employee performance. This is often quite traumatic for the employee.
Clearly, an employer who is performance managing employees needs to be very careful not to cross the line. However, the mere fact an employee feels under pressure does not mean that they are in fact being bullied.