03 June 2021

What you need to know about workplace bullying

When someone mentions the word bullying it probably evokes images of schoolyard teasing. However, bullying is not an issue endemic only to schools, workplace bullying is increasingly being recognised as a major issue in the UK. It is also one of the driving forces that make people look for jobs elsewhere, but what should employers be aware of when it comes to tackling the issue?


Workplace bullying is common

Many people assume that bullying in the workplace is a niche human resources issue which most employers will not need be concerned with. However, it’s actually commonplace with research from the TUC suggesting that almost a third of people have been bullied at work. What’s more, CIPD has published evidence that the issue is largely ignored, stating that a quarter of employees think their company turns a blind eye to bullying and harassment.


Many things constitute bullying

It’s not just name-calling and pulling pigtails that are defined as bullying, there are many unfair or unpleasant interactions that can be considered workplace bullying. These include but are not limited to:


  • Being overly or unnecessarily critical of somebody’s work
  • Spreading rumours
  • Deliberately excluding someone from work-based opportunities or social events
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Threats concerning someone’s job security
  • Verbal insults
  • Intimidating a colleague on purpose


In short, bullying could be considered to be anything that deliberately causes emotional or physical harm to an individual.

The Law

In the UK there is not currently a specific law against bullying per se. But if the bullying could be considered harassment under the 2010 Equalities Act not only is it illegal, but employers can face prosecution for failing to stamp it out.

Harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct which is related to one of the following: age, disability, gender identification, race, religion, belief, race, sex and sexual orientation.”

Therefore, bullying could be harassment if, for example, someone was being excluded from an opportunity in the workplace because of their sex.


Ways of tackling bullying

Employers have a duty of care to their employers, they are therefore responsible for preventing bullying, and if they are found to have failed at preventing harassment, they can be legally liable.

Acas offers a free booklet for managers will information on how to deal with bullying which you can read here.

Their suggestions include creating a formal and codified policy around bullying that outlines all of the protocols and channels for all staff to follow regarding the issue. And ensuring that all managers are sufficiently educated to know what to do if they suspect bullying within their department. 

What to do if you experience bullying or harassment

If you are experiencing workplace bullying or harassment, you may feel powerless regarding the situation. However, it is important to be proactive to prevent yourself from suffering any further. In the case of bullying, you might first want to address the issue informally with the person you feel is causing the problem directly if you feel confident enough to do so.

If this doesn’t resolve the issue or you are unwilling to attempt this you should speak to someone else, the most obvious choice would be a manager. But again if you feel like they would be unwilling or unable to help you may want to contact an external body such as ACAS, Citizen’s Advice, or a trade union you’re a member of.

If you’re experiencing harassment and the above advice does not work, you also have the option of taking legal action in the form of an employment tribunal. You can find out more about this here.