Bullying as we all know is a nasty form of intimidation, and as much as we discuss it as being prevalent in the play ground, it can be the same in the work domain. It is usually, though not always, done to someone in a less senior position, thus rendering the victim feeling exposed and vulnerable. It is similar to harassment, which in the workplace can take many forms. In the eyes of the law, harassment is defined 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”.
Workplace bullying can be defined as offensive or insulting behaviour towards a colleague by an employee or group of employees, in some cases in front of colleagues. For example, making sexual comments, or abusing someone’s race, religion or sexual orientation. It is not possible to make a legal claim directly about bullying, but complaints can be made under laws covering discrimination and harassment. If you are forced to resign due to bullying you may be able to make a constructive dismissal claim under employment law, and in certain circumstances be entitled to leave without serving your notice period. The fundamental laws herewith are contained within the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Bullying includes abuse, physical or verbal violence, humiliation and undermining someone’s confidence. Note employers do have a ‘duty of care’ to their employees and this includes dealing with bullying at work, therefore there ought to be measures you can take if you are being bullied. Contact an employee representative like a trade union official or someone in the HR dept, or simply your line manager/supervisor/team leader. Note, I would advise all communication be in writing.
On occasion, employers will have specially trained staff to help with bullying and harassment problems. They are sometimes called ‘harassment advisers’ who may be able to help.
Very importantly, if the bullying is affecting your health, visit your doctor immediately.
With regards to procedure, it is advisable one take the following steps:
Address the bully directly
The bullying may not be deliberate. If you can, talk to the person in question, who may not realise how their behaviour has been affecting you. Work out what to say beforehand. Describe what has been happening and why you object to it. Stay calm and be polite, and have witnesses. If you would rather not to talk to them yourself, ask someone else to do so for you. Follow up the the meet with an email/letter outlining again the reasons for your upset and request it stop immediately.
Keep a written record or diary of bullying at work
Write down details of every incident and keep copies of any relevant documents.
Make a formal complaint of bullying at work
Making a formal complaint is the next step if you cannot solve the problem informally. To do this you must follow your employer’s grievance procedure. In the unfortunate event, the bully is your manager, make the complaint in writing to him/her and ask that it is passed on to another manager to look into. If that does not happen, or indeed is not possible, make the complaint to the HR department. You have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or colleague to a disciplinary or grievance meeting. You can also reasonably postpone the hearing if your companion cannot make it. If you are dismissed for trying to exercise these rights or for requesting someone accompany you, it is automatically unfair.
Note the role of ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. The Code sets out principles that you and your employer should follow to achieve a reasonable standard of behaviour in handling grievances.
Note: if you think that making a complaint will cause further bullying or harassment, you do not need to follow normal grievance procedures. In cases like this, you are advised to seek urgent legal advice.
Written by Camilla Choudry, Legal Expert for Mojomums