Steps to follow
Bullying in the workplace is where someone tries to intimidate another worker. It is defined by Acas as “Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”.
Bullying can be face-to-face, via email or through indirect action on the part of the bully. The person being bullied will often lose confidence, and may start to think it is their fault.
It does not matter that the bully thinks the behaviour is appropriate. It is how the recipient of this feels that is important.
Acas provides examples of bullying behaviour: overbearing supervision, picking on someone and setting them up to fail, copying memos that are critical about someone to others who do not need to know, or deliberately undermining people. It recommends that employers use these examples to set standards of acceptable behaviour. This could be done through a memo or in the workplace handbook.
If you are being bullied, talk to someone. This may be HR, your manager or supervisor. It could be a colleague.
Seek advice. Your union may be able to help. Your manager may be able to have a quiet word with the bully or rearrange your work in some way so that you can avoid them. Some workplaces have a designated helpline or a staff member trained in dealing with these sorts of problems.
Can you talk to the bully and explain how you feel in a polite but firm way? They might not realise how their behaviour is upsetting you. If you can’t face this, don’t worry.
If informal solutions don’t work, consider taking it further. Your employer may have a grievance procedure which you can follow. If not, raise a grievance by writing to your manager with your concerns.
If your manager is the bully, is there another manager you can go to? Or can you raise it with the managing director? If not, or if your workplace is small, go through the grievance procedure if you wish to subsequently take legal action. If the bullying is too extreme for you to be able to do this and it is affecting your health, see your GP. You can still bring legal action. Your claim could be for discrimination and harassment, or for constructive dismissal.
You should see an employment advisor or solicitor at this stage. You have three months in which to raise a legal action from the time you left work or the date of the last bullying incident.
If you are being discriminated against (perhaps as part of the bullying) then don’t put up with it. Discrimination can occur on the basis of age, sex, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability.
If discrimination is occurring, follow the steps above. You may want to consult the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which will offer advice and can provide legal representation. It has a free helpline at 0845 604 6610 (England) 5510 (Scotland) and 8810 (Wales). Acas also has a free helpline, at 08457 474747, as do various other organisations.
What to watch out for
Bringing a claim before an employment tribunal will cost you money, perhaps a few thousand pounds, although you may be able to find a ‘no win, no fee’ lawyer, who will represent you at no cost unless you win, in which case your legal fees are paid by the other side. Most cases are settled, which will help to keep costs down. Mediation may be an option worth exploring.
Solicitor’s top tip
Always keep a record of incidents, including dates, names, what happened, what was said and any relevant background details that put it in context. Keep a copy of any emails, letters and other evidence. You may need these to back up your claim, even at an informal level.
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