Employment Advice

What counts as bullying in the workplace?

Experiencing unfair treatment in the workplace can be distressing and can have an impact on your life both in and out of work. You may be worried about your financial situation if you leave, your performance at work, or suffer from low self-esteem. However, there are laws to protect employees from such treatment, but you must first understand what type of negative treatment you are experiencing under the law. In this article, we look at what bullying in the workplace is, and what you can do if you are a victim.

11 Jan 2022

Team name
Esther Marshall

Esther Marshall

What is bullying?

Bullying is where you experience behaviours from a person or group of people that make you feel uncomfortable, frightened, made fun of, or put down.

What are some examples of bullying in the workplace?

Bullying can take many different forms, but typical examples include:

  • Someone continually putting you down in meetings or in front of superiors
  • Someone spreading rumours about you
  • When you are prevented from joining in social events by the rest of your team
  • When your boss doesn’t let you attend training or social events but allows everyone else

Bullying can be a regular pattern of behaviour or a one-off incident and doesn’t necessarily have to happen at the workplace. It is possible to experience bullying at a workplace social event, on social media, by email or phone call or face-to-face.

It is also possible to experience bullying from junior members of staff if you are a more senior employee. This is known as upwards bullying and may include actions such as:

  • Refusing to carry out instructions or tasks you have delegated to them
  • Spreading rumours about you
  • Showing disrespect towards you
  • Doing things to make you seem incompetent

What is the difference between bullying and harassment?

Bullying is deemed to be harassment under the law where it is related to a protected characteristic. The protected characteristics are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

What can I do about bullying in the workplace?

You should speak to those involved in the bullying and explain how the behaviour makes you feel. If you do not wish to speak to them face to face, you could set out the facts in an email. You may also be able to speak to a trade union representative or someone else at work to help you.

Where there is a pattern of bullying, you should try to keep a record. Include details such as:

  • The date and time of the incidents
  • Evidence such as emails, screenshots or details of any witnesses
  • The effects of the bullying such as how it made you feel or any impact on your performance at work

M&P Commentary

Esther Marshall, Senior Associate Solicitor in our Dispute Resolution department, said:

“Workplace bullying is, sadly, something that we at Mullis & Peake hear of often. It is important for Employers, once they are aware of an allegation of bullying, to take the matter seriously – it won’t simply go away if ignored. Incidents of bullying may well increase even further as people are returning to the workplace and having had the protection of working from home, will now be thrown back together with people who may have bullied them previously. Our experienced and practical employment law team and can advise both employers and employees in relation to all aspect of bullying and harassment.”

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