Employers have a legal responsibility to prevent bullying at work. But sadly, bullying can occur and take many different shapes and forms. Bullying can happen face to face, over email, by phone and in other ways too. And it can be hard to judge if you really are being treated in a way that is unacceptable.
Generally speaking you are being bullied if someone or a group of people are acting in an offensive, intimidating or malicious way towards you. Or if they are abusing their power to undermine, humiliate or injure you.
Examples of bullying at work include:
- Spreading malicious rumours or insults
- Copying people who don’t need to know into memos that are critical about someone
- Overbearing supervision
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Making un-founded threats about job security
- Intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities to prevent job progression
- Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading them or by constantly criticising their work
Steps you can take if you’re being bullied at work:
- Consult your employee handbook or company policy documents
Every company should have policies and procedures in place to protect employees from bullying and harassment. If you feel bullied at work, ask to see these documents and check to see whether the way someone is treating you can be classed as bullying. These documents should also give you an idea of what you can do if you feel bullied and what support you can expect from your employer.
- Get advice
If you do feel bullied, it’s worth approaching HR, your line manager or a colleague you are comfortable around, and expressing your concerns. They should be able to help guide and support you and may be able to take action on your behalf. If you are a member of a Trade Union you should also contact your representative for advice.
- Keep a diary
Keeping a diary can help you make a formal complaint or legal case against bullying at work, so it’s really important that you keep a record of any instances where you’ve felt bullied. That can mean noting down comments or actions that you have felt have hurt and intimidated you, as well as where and when this occurred, if there were any witnesses etc.
It’s also advisable to keep a record and print out of any email or web exchanges – where you feel bullying has occurred.
- Tell the person bullying you to stop
Even if you’ve asked the person or group bullying you to stop, it’s worth asking via a written or email memo that expresses that you feel bullied as a result of their behaviour and clearly outlines what behavioural aspects you object to. Be calm, be clear, be honest – don’t be aggressive. And keep a copy for your diary/evidence. And ask HR, a line manager or a Trade Union representative for their advice and support or to act on your behalf.
- If the bullying doesn’t stop, consider formal action
Your workplace should have formal complaint procedures in place. So ask HR to guide you through the process of making a formal complaint – or, if you’re afraid to approach HR, ask organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau for their help.
- Consider asking for mediation
After you’ve made a formal complaint, you might want to consider asking HR to organise formal mediation (available from third party organisations like ACAS) between you and the person bullying you. This might be especially helpful in a situation where there’s been a change in management, work requirements or organisational style. Your Trade Union rep and the Citizens Advice can help you decide if this is right for you if you don’t feel able to ask HR about the pros and cons.
- As a last resort, consider taking legal action
If you’ve tried all of these avenues and are still being bullied at work, then you might want to seek legal advice and determine whether your case can be taken to an employment tribunal.
It’s important that you have tried to resolve the problem using the steps above before you take legal action, as records you’ve kept and the steps you’ve been seen to take can be used at tribunal to help make your case.
Are you being bullied at work? Do you have any tips you can share with people going through a similar situation?
Rob Hawkins is a freelance copywriter who writes for a variety of websites, including specialist personal injury solicitors RJW.