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Bullying in the workplace

Everyone has a right to be able to go to work and be treated with dignity and respect by their fellow employees and employers. For the vast majority of people this is a reality, and their workplace is hassle-free. However, for some, bullying in the workplace is their day-to-day life, and it can lead to many side effects including a negative impact on someone’s career, poor productivity, upset and even depression.

Bullying in the workplace is unpleasant, but when it becomes harassment it is against the law. Employers have a legal duty to ensure that their employees are not harassed in the workplace and you can take legal action against your employer if they fail in this important legal area.

What is bullying in the workplace?

Bullying in the workplace is largely considered to be any offensive behaviour aimed at someone whilst at work. It can take many forms, and can involve intimidation, verbal abuse, malicious joking or teasing or offensive behaviour. Any behaviour that is intended to undermine, belittle or denigrate another person could be considered bullying.

Bullying becomes harassment when it is related to certain protected characteristics of the victim. So for example if someone is bullied because of their age, racial background, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender or nationality then this bullying behaviour may be considered harassment.

Which situations could be considered bullying in the workplace?

Bullying in the workplace can take many forms. Examples include direct or indirect insults about someone, undermining someone by contradicting what they say, excluding someone from activities or conversations or treating someone unfairly.

Examples of harassment include any of the above behaviour when it is motivated by a personal characteristic of the individual such as their age, gender or race. Unwelcome sexual approaches such as standing too close, touching, asking for sex or making work-based decisions on the basis of how sexual advances are tolerated are all forms of harassment.

Bullying need not be direct, and can often be done via email or text messages.

What should I do if I suffer bullying in the workplace?

In the first instance employees who suffer workplace bullying should try to approach the perpetrator and confront them directly. This will often be enough to put the behaviour to bed. In some circumstances this may not be possible, particularly when you feel intimidated, or if you believe the bullying already constitutes harassment. In these circumstances you could go directly to your work Human Resources department, line manager or a trade union representative.

After an initial complaint, the next stage is to make a formal complaint, detailing specifics of the problem.

Finally, if the behaviour amounts to harassment and nothing is being done, you should consult a solicitor for legal advice with a view to taking legal action.

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