Bullying at work
There is no legal definition of bullying. However ACAS define workplace bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the person being bullied” The Health and Safety Executive emphasises this is a pattern of behaviour rather than an isolated instance, happening “repeatedly and persistently over time”.
There is also the concept of “harassment” which, unlike bullying, is defined in the Equality Act 2010. This specifically amounts to unwanted conduct relating to a protected characteristic that has the purpose of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person. The relevant protected characteristics are: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. A one-off incident can amount to harassment.
What Forms can bullying take?
- Overbearing supervision
- Constraint criticism
- Making up lies about colleagues
- Being rude
- Deliberating showing constant insubordination eg not following chain of command
- Causing trouble for people
- Making colleagues feel uncomfortable
- Shouting at people
- Being overworked, with impossible time frames
- Physical e.g. slamming a door in someone’s face, hitting someone
What forms can harassment take?
- Unwelcome sexual advances or touching, standing too close, the display of offensive materials, asking for sexual favours.
- Being frequently teased and humiliated about a disability that you have.
- Receiving homophobic comments.
What are an employer’s responsibilities?
Employers have a duty of care for all their employees to prevent bullying and harassment. They also have responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 for the welfare of employees.
What should you do if you feel you are being bullied or harassed?
It can be really difficult to speak out about being bullied, especially if you feel you will not get listened to or given lip service, you should firstly consider whether the situation can be resolved with your line manager informally, never feel you have to deal with the bully yourself, if it suggested by a manager that you should stand up to the person, then this is not dealing or taking any responsibility for the situation this is putting the onus back to you to sort out, and this is not the action of a manager who cares. Find someone to talk to about never bottle it up.
If the matter cannot be resolved informally, you may wish to escalate matters and lodge a formal grievance, which your employer should investigate and then hold a meeting with you. The grievance should be logged with HR. If the grievance is not upheld, you have the right to lodge an appeal. If it is upheld, the person bullying you could be disciplined or even dismissed.
If your health (whether physical or mental) is so adversely affected by the bullying, your GP may sign you off work for work related stress and/or anxiety. Indeed, in many cases, individuals find they simply cannot return to work while the continuing threat of bullying remains. Those who are bullied, have an increased risk, of stress, anxiety and depression and decreased levels of self-esteem and future optimism. If someone’s behaviour is making anyone feel, bullied in anyway it is not acceptable
To alleviate bullying, it would be helpful if employers adopted policies encouraging employees to speak out, together with providing appropriate assistance. They should also be discouraging any culture of bullying and harassment in the workplace. Encouraging bystanders who join in work gossip or stand by and listen should be discouraged, all staff need to be encouraged to report anything like this immediately to their line manager.
We unfortunately may come across someone at work who ruins it for everyone, making work an awful place to be, with bullying, lies, insubordination, malicious rumours. Often work bullies have great delight in tormenting staff, yet are the first to lodge a complaint should anyone stand up to them or say something they don’t like, often bullies will use this as a form of bullying trying to get staff members into trouble. Good managers will address this is a professional and diligent manner, so that the bully is the one who is in trouble for causing trouble. With the right support from management and serious consequences for all bullies, the work place should be a supportive, nurturing place to be. We spend a lot of our lives at work and it should be somewhere we enjoy going and can be free of harassment and bullying of any kind.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will …… and can have a truly detrimental impact on my health and wellbeing