Unreviewed - content source has not yet been reviewed for DirectScot
Bullying in the workplace
You shouldn't have to put up with bullying at work. Find out more about what bullying is and if you think you are being bullied at work what you can do to stop it.
What is bullying at work?
Bullying at work is when someone tries to intimidate another worker, often in front of colleagues. It is usually, though not always, done to someone in a less senior position. It is similar to harassment, which is where someone's behaviour is offensive. For example, making sexual comments, or abusing someone's race, religion or sexual orientation.
You cannot make a legal claim directly about bullying, but complaints can be made under laws covering discrimination and harassment. If you are forced to resign due to bullying you may be able to make a constructive dismissal claim.
Examples of bullying behaviour
Bullying includes abuse, physical or verbal violence, humiliation and undermining someone's confidence. You are probably being bullied if, for example, you are:
- constantly picked on
- humiliated in front of colleagues
- regularly unfairly treated
- physically or verbally abused
- blamed for problems caused by others
- always given too much to do, so that you regularly fail in your work
- regularly threatened with the sack
- unfairly passed over for promotion or denied training opportunities
Bullying can be face-to-face, in writing, over the phone or by fax or email.
Before taking action
If you think you are being bullied, it is best to talk it over with someone. Sometimes what seems like bullying might not be.
For example, you might have more work to do because of a change in the way your organisation is run. If you find it difficult to cope, talk to your manager or supervisor, who might be as concerned as you are. Sometimes all it takes is a change in the way you work to give you time to adjust.
What to do if you are bullied at work
Employers have a 'duty of care' to their employees and this includes dealing with bullying at work. There are measures you can take if you are being bullied.
Speak to someone about how you might deal with the problem informally. This might be:
- an employee representative like a trade union official
- someone in the human resources (HR) department
- your manager or supervisor
Some employers have specially trained staff to help with bullying and harassment problems. They are sometimes called 'harassment advisers'. If the bullying is affecting your health, visit your doctor.
Talk to the bully
The bullying may not be deliberate. If you can, talk to the person in question, who may not realise how their behaviour has been affecting you. Work out what to say beforehand. Describe what has been happening and why you object to it. Stay calm and be polite. If you don't want to talk to them yourself, ask someone else to do so for you.
Keep a written record or diary
Write down details of every incident and keep copies of any relevant documents.
Making a formal complaint
Making a formal complaint is the next step if you can't solve the problem informally. To do this you must follow your employer's grievance procedure.
Some awkward situations
Below are some examples of awkward situations you might face at work and suggestions on how they could be handled.
The bully is your manager and the grievance procedure says that is who you should speak to
Make the complaint in writing to your line manager and ask that it is passed on to another manager to look into. If that doesn’t happen, or isn’t possible, make the complaint to your boss’s manager or HR department.
The person bullying you is a sole trader or the firm's managing director or owner
Follow the grievance procedure. It may help you later if you have to take legal action against your employer.
Your boss is violent and abusive towards you and you are afraid to make a complaint
If you think that making a complaint will cause further bullying or harassment, you don’t need to follow normal grievance procedures. In cases like this, you can still then take legal action if you wish.
What about taking legal action?
Sometimes the problem continues even after you have followed your employer's grievance procedure. If nothing is done to put things right, you can think about legal action, which may mean going to an Employment Tribunal. Get professional advice before taking this step.
Remember that it is not possible to go to an Employment Tribunal directly over bullying. Complaints can be made under laws covering discrimination and harassment.
If you have left your job because of bullying, you might be able to claim unfair 'constructive' dismissal. This can be difficult to prove, so it is important to get advice from a specialist lawyer or other professional.
Where to get help
Visit the employment contacts page for more information on where to get help with employment issues. You can also get advice and support from your trade union.