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How to Deal with Bullying at Work

23 Aug 2021

Bullying at work can take a variety of forms such as exclusion from social activities or hurtful remarks. It can also occur through any media, whether its face-to-face or by digital means. Ultimately, workplace bullying is defined as any unwanted behaviour that causes the recipient to feel uncomfortable, intimidated, or offended.

Consult our resource on bullying at work for more information.

This guide outlines an appropriate approach to dealing with bullying at work in a step-by-step format, beginning with the recognition of workplace bullying. It then explains the process of recording the bully’s behaviour, speaking to them, reporting them, and finally seeking additional advice.

1. Recognise workplace bullying

The first step towards tackling workplace bullying is to recognise when it is taking place. This might be challenging in itself because social interactions between coworkers can be incredibly complicated. Is a colleague’s behaviour making you feel uneasy or belittled? Was the situation an isolated incident or is it recurrent? Could it be argued that you provoked the bully?

In cases where your emotional wellbeing is consistently being affected by a coworker’s behaviour, it can definitely be classed as bullying and you should take action. There may, however, be instances in which another employee is rude to your or upsets you just because they are having a bad day themselves, and it may be worth giving them the benefit of the doubt for a one-off incident.

2. Keep a record of the bully’s behaviour

Once you have identified the fact that workplace bullying is occurring, you should begin to take action immediately. It is vital to keep a record of the bully’s behaviour, taking detailed notes that document what happened and when. Not only will this enable you to determine the scale of the problem, but it will also provide you with issues to discuss if you do choose to speak to the bully.

3. Speak to the bully

The official advice on dealing with bullying at work states that the recipient should make an effort to handle the situation informally before taking any further action. In some cases, this can be achieved simply by speaking to the bully themselves and making them aware of how their behaviour is impacting your emotional wellbeing.

4. Report the bully

Should you find that the perpetrator continues to bully you despite your request, then you are certainly within your rights to report them to your manager, HR, or a trade union representative (whichever is most relevant to your work environment). The fact that you tried to address the problem directly before reporting it will support your case.

5. Make a formal complaint

If you are still unable to reach a resolution after the bullying has been reported, you may need to consider submitting a formal complaint through your employer’s grievance procedure. Don’t take this decision lightly: the process will entail the submission of a written complaint, a formal meeting, and a thorough investigation. At the end of this, you will be provided with the outcome in writing. You have the right to appeal the outcome of the grievance procedure.

6. Seek additional advice if necessary

In situations where your employer’s grievance procedure doesn’t resolve the problem, you may find that you need to seek additional advice about what to do going forward. At this stage, it’s important to determine whether you are suffering from bullying or harassment. If you are being targeted due to a protected characteristic such as your age, sex, or a disability, then the behaviour is harassment and not bullying (see our resource on workplace harassment for more information on this).

Whilst workplace harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010, bullying at work is not defined by law and you cannot make a claim for bullying at an employment tribunal. That said, all employers have a legal duty of care for their employees. If you feel like your employer has broken the mutual bond of trust and confidence between you by failing to respond to bullying allegations in an appropriate manner, then the last resort would be to leave your job and claim constructive dismissal on the grounds of breach of contract.

If you need further guidance on how to deal with bullying at work, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us. We can advise you on finding out about your company’s grievance procedure and making a formal complaint; even if you have already been through the official complaints process, we can discuss the possibility of a constructive dismissal case.

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Written by Jayne Harrison

Jayne joined Richard Nelson LLP in 2018 as a Partner and manages the firm's employment law services. After training at a top 100 law firm, Jayne spent the last 13 years at Chattertons and then Cleggs Solicitors. She represents employees and professionals in regulated industries.

Read more about Jayne Harrison.

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