Are there any laws which can protect me from bullying in the workplace?

Bullying in the Workplace

What is meant by bullying?

The activity of bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.

Many cases of bullying in the workplace may rely on the abuse or misuse of power from a superior to bully someone below them in the chain of command. However, this abuse of power does not necessarily have to be present as bullying can also occur between colleagues on the same level in the workplace.

Harassment

What is meant by harassment?

Harassment can be defined as unwanted conduct which affects the dignity of both men and women in the workplace. Harassment may be on the grounds of the following:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Nationality
  • Any personal characteristic of the individual

Harassment can occur from a single incident or from a variety of similar incidents. The most important thing to establish in a case of harassment is that the actions or comments will be viewed as demeaning or unacceptable to the recipient and the purpose or effect of this is to violate an individual’s dignity or to create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. 

Does the law provide me with any protection?

Harassment

The anti-discrimination laws in England and Wales protect employees from harassment both during their employment and when applying for potential employment. During employment the protection from harassment ranges from their employers, colleagues and also clients.

Bullying

No single piece of legislation

The Law in England and Wales in relation to bullying in the workplace is however, a little more complicated. This is due to their not being one single piece of legislation which deals specifically with bullying in the workplace. Rather the issue of what has actually happened and the conduct occurring will have to be examined in the first place with some form of legal protection being applied to the situation.

Examples of bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the workplace can consist of the following actions:

  • Unwanted physical contact
  • Remarks concerning a person’s age, dress, appearance etc
  • Offensive language
  • Isolation from groups
  • Failure to keep certain information confidential
  • Continual criticism
  • Shouting at staff

The following are examples of how legislation can be breached due to certain actions of employees and employers:

  • Bullied by fellow worker

If an employee is being bullied by a fellow worker this will usually be seen to be a breach of contract on the part of the employer. This is due to the implied contractual term that an employer will provide reasonable support to employees to protect them from bullying an unwanted harassment from their colleagues.

  • Injured by actions of a fellow worker

If an employee has been injured by the actions of another employee they may have a criminal claim against that employee but could also bring a claim against the employer in relation to their common law duty to protect their employees and the personal injury protection of employees under tort law.

  • Bullying by the employer

Another example of bullying in the workplace could be behaviour towards an employee by an employer due to that employee blowing the whistle on certain practices going on within the company. The employee would be given legal protection under the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1998.

Further legal protection

An employee will also be protected from unfair dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and protected from certain forms of intimidation under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

How can bullying in the workplace be eradicated?

Stopping bullying in the workplace is the joint responsibility of the employer and the employees.

Responsibilities of the employer

An employer should put together a comprehensive policy document detailing various issues and ensure that this is made available to all staff.

What should be included in an employer’s policy?

The following issues should be included in the policy drafted by the employer:

  • Examples of what will constitute harassment or bullying – this can include cyber-bullying
  • An explanation of the effects and the fact it will not be tolerated
  • The fact that bullying will be treated as a disciplinary offence
  • Explain the possible legal implications
  • Explain the accountability of the various managers within the company
  • Explain fully that all employees carry a responsibility for their own behaviour
  • Detail the appropriate company polices such as:
  • Investigation of the incident
  • Guidance and counseling available
  • Formal procedures

Following on from the production of the policy document the employer should undertake the following tasks:

  • Ensure that the policy document has been provided to all employees and certain issues contained within it have been fully detailed to all employees
  • Ensure that adequate training is provided where necessary
  • Ensure that the document is amended in light of any recent developments both in relation to the legal implications and conduct in the office
  • Ensure that if any complaint of bullying in the workplace arises the polices detailed in the policy document are adhered to by all involved – including the employer

Responsibilities of the Employees

The employees have the responsibility to ensure that they behave in ways which support a non-hostile working environment for themselves and their colleagues. All employees should play their individual part in ensuring that the policy developed by the employer becomes a reality making sure that they are prepared to challenge any inappropriate behaviour and take action if they observe or have evidence that someone is being harassed.