Bullying and workplace harassment

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Bullying has probably been experienced by many of us at some point, possibly in the form of bullying at school or some kind of workplace harassment.

Yet, while school bullying is more obvious to identify, workplace harassment, which can include bullying and teasing, is one of the major causes of stress in the workplace. In fact, bullying in the workplace costs employers more than £2bn per year in sick pay, staff turnover and lower productivity.

This page aims to provide numerous resources on bullying workplace from PersonnelToday.com and elsewhere on the web. We’ve gathered together a range of information about workplace harassment and bullying in one easy-to-use resource including links to factsheets and articles from respected organisation.

Definitions of bullying and harassment

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) characterises bullying as: “Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.”

ACAS defines harassment as: “Harassment, in general terms, is unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of men and women in the workplace. It may be related to age, sex, race, disability, religion, nationality or any personal characteristic of the individual, and may be persistent or an isolated incident. The key is that the actions or comments are viewed as demeaning and unacceptable to the recipient.”

Acas guidance:
In addition to the above definitions, you can find out more from the Acas advice leaflet on ‘Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers’ which includes:

  •  How can bullying and harassment be recognised?
  • Why do employers need to take action on bullying and harassment?
  • What should employers do about bullying and harassment?
  • How should employers respond to a complaint of bullying and/or harassment?
  • What should be considered before imposing a penalty?

Full version of the Advice leaflet – Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers  [70kb]

Directgov guidance:
Bullying in the workplace
You shouldn’t have to put up with bullying at work. Read about what bullying is and how to tell if you’re being bullied, and details of what you can do to stop it.

Bullying statistics

This factsheet on workplace bullying from the Andrea Adams Trust includes a definition of workplace bullying, effects of bullying, strong management or bullying? Why me? Obvious and less obvious bullying behaviour and a 10 point survival plan. Some stats on the factsheet include:

  •  More than two million people at work consider themselves as being bullied
  • 18.9 million working days are lost each year as a direct result of workplace bullying
  • 43.5% of employers do not have a policy to deal with workplace bullying
  • 93.1% of all Personnel practitioners say that bullying is occurring in their own organisations
  • 82.2% say that weakness in management is the prime reason for bullying

Bullying and workplace harassment legislation

Employers are liable for any employee raising a staff grievance for bullying and an employee can bring about a claim for bullying under any Discrimination Act including:

In addition, the Protection of Harassment Act (1997), initially brought in to deal with stalkers, is now being used to bring forward claims for all other areas of bullying that cannot be pinned under any of the above specific Discrimination Acts. An employee could also claim for constructive dismissal if they were found to have left the company due to bullying or harassment.

Identifying and investigating bullying and workplace harassment:

Our Spotlight on bullying article summarises points on how to manage bullying in the workplace:

  • Employers and managers need to watch out for higher levels of absence and sickness absence
  • Be fully prepared for bullying in the workplace, by making sure you have all relevant anti-discrimination policies in place
  • Provide bullying awareness training for staff
  • Encourage all your managers to walk the floor and be aware of what’s going on around them
  • Set standards of behaviours.

Investigating bullying in the workplace

  • Be alert to any sign of discrimination or bullying and investigate immediately. Otherwise, the employer – not just the bully – could be held liable
  • If you suspect someone is being bullied, take them aside privately and ask how they are feeling. Let them know they can make a formal complaint
  • In a serious case, it may be appropriate to suspend the person who has been accused of carrying out the bullying, or to move them to another department while the investigation takes place
  • Gather witness statements from other colleagues before commencing any formal proceedings against the alleged.

PersonnelToday.com resources on bullying

Bullying in the workplace: setting unrealistic targets
Setting unrealistic targets can also be interpreted as bullying, warns Kate Hilpern.

Bullying at work: what are employers doing to tackle it?
In the 12 years since she founded anti-workplace bullying charity, the Andrea Adams Trust, Lyn Witheridge has been aware of seven suicides and countless nervous breakdowns caused by bullying at work. On a busy day, her organisation takes up to 70 calls on its helpline.

Bullies use covert tactics to antagonise colleagues
Bullies in UK workplaces are using a range of subtle tactics and behaviours to intimidate their colleagues, research has revealed.

Personnel Today ‘teasing’ survey finds UK workplace is becoming increasingly ‘lookist’
Inspired by hit TV show Ugly Betty, our latest survey suggests that workplaces are becoming increasingly ‘lookist’. If you have ever been teased because of your hair colour or dress sense, our results should strike a chord, as Karen Dempsey reports.

Career coach: Tackling bullying managerial styles
As an HR manager who’s just started at a large organisation, I’m concerned about a line manager who is considered a star performer. He is dominant, dogmatic and rude to his team, but the organisation turns a blind eye because he brings in so much money. I suspect he’s a bully, although no-one has yet come forward to complain. What should I do?

Bullying content on Work Clinic blog

Fattism and obesity
An overweight person receiving taunts or unkind remarks about their weight is likely to constitute bullying. While bullying is not legally actionable as a free-standing concept, it could lead to a constructive dismissal claim if the person has been employed for at least 12 months.

Chartered Management Institute documents:
Bullying at work: the experience of managers
Bullying in the workplace: guidance for managers

Campaigns: Ban bullying at work:
National Ban Bullying at Work Day
The campaign is independent and needs organisations to get involved and participate in the day by taking ownership of the ethos and raising awareness of the issue within their workplaces.

Bullying helplines

National Bullying helpline
If you are contemplating resignation it is in your best interest to contact the National Bullying Helpline before you do so.
0845 225 5787
Andrea Adams Trust workplace bullying helpline
01273 704900

Bullying forums

Personnel Today bullying forum
Networking forum for bullying

Join the BullyOnline forum
A Yahoo forum on tackling workplace bullying, and can provide validation and re-empowerment for those who have suffered work abuse or bullying anywhere.

Bullying and workplace harassment – external resources

Bully Online
Dignity at Work 

Books on bullying and harassment

Bullying at Work: How to Confront and Overcome It
The Bully at Work: What You Can Do…
Dignity at Work: Eliminate Bullying and Create a Positive Working Environment


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