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Bullying continues to blight the workplace

Bullying in the workplace


The incidence of bullying in the workplace continues to be too high for employers to be complacent, warns Fergal Dowling, Partner and employment law specialist at the Birmingham office of national solicitors Irwin Mitchell. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, one in eight admit to being bullied in the workplace, while estimates of the number of working days lost due to bullying range from 19 million to 40 million.

In addition, a recent survey sponsored by a charity devoted to the elimination of workplace bullying revealed that 87% of HR practitioners surveyed were aware of bullying within their own organisations. HR professionals need to recognise the forms that bullying and harassment take to tackle the issues.


Bullying in the workplace legal advice

Bullying is often characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. Harassment is generally unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of men and/or women in the workplace.

Employers must comply with the 1991 European Commission Code, Protection of Dignity of Men and Women at Work and the Protection of Harassment Act 1997. They can support that compliance by developing and implementing policies, including relevant training, to establish an environment where bullying is unable to take root.

The policy should include examples of unacceptable behaviour, for example rumour mongering, misuse of power, unwelcome sexual advances, unfounded threats regarding job security and hindering promotion. It should also include:

  • Unambiguous support from senior management
  • Steps taken to prevent bullying and harassment (may be treated as disciplinary offences)
  • Supervisory/managerial responsibilities 
  • Reference to formal/informal grievance and investigation procedures with timescales
  • Counselling & mediation sessions
  • Confidentiality assurances for any complainant


Stopping bullying in the workplace

Victims of bullying cannot make a direct complaint to an Employment Tribunal about bullying. However, they may be able to bring a complaint under laws covering discrimination, including sex, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, nationality, race, disability, or religious belief. Should an employee resign as a result of bullying/harassment they may claim constructive unfair dismissal, which could result in the tribunal awarding damages. They may also complain under health and safety legislation in terms of the employer failing to protect the employee from stress brought on by bullying.

Fergal concludes: It is better for employers to deal with incidents of bullying immediately, rather than allowing them to fester and result in legal action. Where action is taken by the employer, it must be reasonable in the light of the circumstances, which could include considering the employees disciplinary and general record, action taken in previous cases etc. It must also comply with statutory grievance procedures.

Employers must tackle bullying out of concern for their employees well-being, the effects on their morale and the impacts on the bottom line of falling productivity, increased staff turnover and absenteeism, and corporate reputation.

Can we help you with a bullying in the workplace claim? Employers wishing to check that they comply with the latest requirements should visit our Employment and pensions pages.