Are You Being Bullied or Harassed in the Workplace?
What is bullying and harassment?
Bullying and harassment in the workplace is worryingly common. According to a recent study, bullying and harassment in the workplace is increasingly prevalent with 75% of participants saying they had been the victim of or had seen others being subject to bullying and harassment at work. It impacts on the health and wellbeing of the victims and their loved ones and has a negative effect on the economy with millions of working hours being lost through sickness absence for work related stress.
Top 3 Tips
- 1. Bullying takes many forms – if you feel you are being bullied you probably are
- 2. You don’t need to suffer in silence – raise your concerns and seek to resolve them
- 3. If you feel you need to resign, seek to negotiate an exit package before doing so
Examples of bullying and harassment in the workplace
The first thing is to recognise what bullying and harassment is. The ACAS guide on bullying and harassment at work defines bullying as: “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”. It provides the following examples of bullying:
- Spreading malicious rumours or insulting someone by word or behaviour; copying memos that are critical about someone to others who do not need to know;
- Ridiculing or demeaning someone – picking on them or setting them up to fail;
- Exclusion or victimisation;
- Unfair treatment;
- Overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position;
- Unwelcome sexual advances;
- Making threats or comments about job security without foundation;
- Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism;
- Preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities.
Options for dealing with bullying and harassment
So if you’re one of those unfortunate people who are being bullied at work what can you do about it? If you can identify with the examples mentioned above then you should not suffer in silence. As a first step you should raise the matter with your employer. This could be done informally or you could put your complaint in writing.
Many employers, particular larger ones, will have a written policy against bullying and harassment and you could make a complaint under such a policy or raise a grievance under any grievance policy. You should set out in detail what action or behaviour you are complaining about, when it occurred, who was involved, how it makes you feel and what you want your employer to do about it. You should gather your evidence by contacting witnesses if any to provide supporting statements to corroborate your account.
Sometimes a formal written complaint or grievance can lead to the employer dealing with the matter and putting things right. However unfortunately many times employers will string out the grievance process but have no intention of upholding the complaint nor do anything to address it. Even worse they may believe you to be a trouble-maker and consider how to manage you out of the business or get rid of you in some other way. In this scenario there are two options: stay and fight for your rights or leave.
If you stay you should keep a diary to log your complaints so that you have a good record of what you are being subject to. Again you should gather all evidence and speak to witnesses as events occur. You could also contemplate legal action.
Legal options to combat bullying and harassment
You may be surprised to learn there is no single law directly prohibiting bullying and harassment per se in the workplace in the UK. Limited legal protection exists in other laws, the main ones are:
If the bullying or harassment is based on grounds of race, sex, disability etc. then you may have a potential claim for discrimination. There are strict time limits to bring your claim with the deadline being 3 months less one day from the date of the discrimination to commence the process to pursue legal action in an Employment Tribunal. The deadline applies regardless of whether you have submitted a grievance or other internal complaint.
If you have suffered a physical or mental injury and you can medically prove it was caused by the bullying and harassment and has led you to suffer financial loss e.g. loss of income whilst being on sick leave, you have a potential claim for personal injury. Personal injury cases usually have to be commenced within 3 years of the injury occurring.
Breach of contract
There are a number of obligations implied into every contract of employment regardless of whether or not they are written into the contract such as the duty of trust and confidence, the duty to deal with grievances without undue delay etc. If your employer breaches these duties in relation to the bullying and harassment which leads you to suffer financial loss then you have a potential claim for breach of contract. Breach of contract cases can only be pursued in the courts whilst you remain in employment and the deadline is 6 years from the date of the breach occurring.
If you decide to resign on the back of being bullied and harassed at work or resign in response to your employer’s failure to address it, then you could potentially have a claim for constructive/ unfair dismissal. You must have been employed by your employer for a minimum of two years’ service prior to your resignation in order to pursue this type of claim. The deadline to commence the process to pursue such a claim is 3 months less one day from the date your resignation took place.
Negotiating an exit?
Staying at the employer and fighting for your rights in the face of being bullied and harassed when the employer is not addressing it is not for everyone. It can have a negative impact on your health and you will need a lot of resolve. It is in some senses a war of attrition, it could involve multiple grievances and counter-grievances and the end result is not certain. If the bullying and harassment consists of unfair performance management then your decision to stick it out may be short lived in any case as your employer may plan for this to lead to your dismissal at some point in any case.
Similarly pursuing legal action in response to being bullied and harassed may not be a solution for everyone. This could be because the legal costs may be unaffordable or perhaps your lawyer tells you that you haven’t got a case that has reasonable prospects of succeeding from a legal perspective.
If you are in this situation the other option available to you is to leave your employer. This is obviously not something you will do lightly as you stand to lose your job and income going forward unless you have something else lined up or are confident you will get an equivalent job soon after.
If you are contemplating this option then you should explore the possibility of your employer agreeing to pay you off with an exit package to leave under a settlement agreement. This will avoid the time and stress of internal complaints procedures and the time and cost of legal action whilst tiding yourself over between jobs.
As bullying and harassment is in itself not strictly illegal (as mentioned above you can only pursue legal action in certain circumstances: for discrimination, personal injury etc.) it may not always be straightforward to negotiate a decent settlement agreement for bullying and harassment.
You could try to negotiate a deal yourself of course. However, to stand a better chance of being taken seriously and using the right negotiation tactics to secure the best deal in your circumstances, it would be advisable to use the services of an experienced negotiator such as a trade union representative if you have one or better still a lawyer with expertise in this area. Any negotiation should be done on a ‘without prejudice’ basis so that you have not committed to leaving your employment unless and until the deal is right for you
How Monaco Solicitors can help you
Monaco Solicitors deal exclusively with employment law matters on behalf of employees against their employers. We have expert employment law solicitors with years of experience in representing employees in Employment Tribunals and Courts and successfully negotiating out of court settlements on their behalf.