Bullying in the workplace: how to deal with it

Bullying, although never acceptable, is, unfortunately, just as prevalent in the workplace as it is in the playground. Companies need to be mindful of ensuring that the behavioural expectations of employees are crystal clear and that they have equally transparent and robust policies and processes to deal with any concerns that are raised by staff. This, in turn, helps to set the culture of the business and encourage an ethos and atmosphere wherein these policies are rarely, if ever, needed. But what is best practice for dealing with workplace bullying?

Definitions

Firstly, it is important to be clear on the meaning of bullying, as the term can be used inaccurately, although there is no single agreed legal definition. For most purposes and audiences, bullying is considered to be behaviour that occurs repeatedly over time which is intended to hurt another, be that physically or emotionally. The key point here is that the behaviour is repeated. Incidents may occur as genuine one-offs and whilst deeply unpleasant for all concerned, a true one-off does not constitute bullying.

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The workplace’s disciplinary process should ensure that such incidents are isolated and therefore are not repeated, which could cross the threshold of being considered to be bullying. The National Bullying Helpline has a whole range of information around the topic, for both those who are victims of bullying and also for those who stand accused of bullying.

Implications

If bullying does occur, and isn’t dealt with swiftly and correctly, workplaces can leave themselves exposed to constructive dismissal claims, should the bullied employee decide they need to leave their job in order to escape the bullying. The first step for any member of staff, at any level, who feels that they are being bullied is to obtain and read the bullying policy and the staff code of conduct. They then need to follow this policy through, ideally supported by evidence, although this can, of course, be difficult to secure.

No employee should feel that they cannot report another colleague no matter what role the bully may hold, but it is recognised that most bullying incidents involve an imbalance of power between the parties in some way. As difficult as it may be, the victim needs to keep a log or diary of any and all incidents of bullying behaviour that they experience. If the employer does not deal with the complaints correctly, then the complainant may be able to make a constructive dismissal claim. Anyone requiring further advice on this topic can contact Employment Law Friend or a similar organisation in order to establish the next steps in the process.

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No one should ever be subject to bullying and workplaces should prioritise having a suitable anti-bullying culture and using robust processes in keeping incidents of bullying to an absolute minimum. Anyone who feels that they are being subjected to bullying should follow their workplace procedure in reporting and addressing the problem, but should also bear in mind that external agencies are able to help, should the workplace response fall short of the expected standard. Codes of conduct and, where applicable, professional standards can also be used to challenge an individual’s behaviour in the hope of addressing the issues and preventing a repeat of them.

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