Bullying in the Workplace

Facing up to a workplace bully can be a daunting prospect.  Bullying is not just experienced by young and inexperienced employees, but by employees of all ages and status.  Research shows it is a widespread problem that can dramatically affect the quality of an employees working life.

Bullying could involve colleagues making an employee the butt of jokes making derogatory comments about their appearance, or excluding them from the social life of the workplace.  Certain business cultures and environments may present additional problems for employers, such as a boisterous and fast paced trading floor, or a busy restaurant kitchen.   Whether the perceived bully intends to bully is irrelevant; rather what is vitally important is whether the bully’s conduct is considered unreasonable in normal circumstances.

Bullying may be from a line manager or supervisor.  A manager may be unreasonably critical of the employee’s work, treat them inconsistently (which could amount to discrimination), shout at them or withhold information which prevents them doing their job.  Complaints of bullying are sometimes linked to a manager addressing concerns about an employee’s performance.  If an employer has performance concerns then they are well within their rights to address these as the employee is employed to do a job.  However, even with legitimate concerns an employer must be careful, and at all times be reasonable and respectful in dealing with the employee’s performance.

Whether the accused is an aggressive co-worker or a belligerent boss, dealing with this level of hostility can leave an employee’s confidence shattered. As this type of behaviour takes various forms, it becomes extremely difficult to determine in a legal context and every accusation of bullying in the workplace should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

An employer has an established duty of care and a legal obligation to ensure its employees safety and protection in the workplace. If an employee believes that he or she is being bullied then the before raising a formal grievance he or she may be able to have an informal chat with HR or a manager, in confidence,  to try and resolve the situation informally.  If this step does not work then it may be necessary to escalate matters and raise a formal grievance.

Most employers have a Bullying and Harassment Policy spelling out what kind of behaviour is unacceptable.  If a grievance has been upheld then disciplinary action may be taken against the bully. What often further complicates these matters is if there are workplace politics to contend with. 

Making a Claim

If the bullying complaint cannot be resolved internally, as there is no legislation directly relating to bullying in the workplace, these types of cases are typically pursued through claims of discrimination, unfair dismissal and constructive dismissal

A civil and criminal claim could also be pursued in more serious cases under the Protection of Harassment Act.  For a potential civil case there must more at least two incidents of harassment and   harassment is defined as being behaviour that causes distress or alarm.  However, as this claim can only be made in the courts, not at an employment tribunal, this means you’re at risk of paying your employer’s legal costs if you lose the case. 

If you are being bullied or harassed at work, Ashby Cohen can help.  Please contact us for an initial free consultation.