Bullying in the workplace: A guide for employees

Bullying in the workplace is worryingly common and appears to be on the increase. The most recent studies indicate that about 35% of the working population report that they have been victims of bullying. And that's just those who've had the courage to report their experience!

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    Bullying impacts the health and wellbeing of the victims and their loved ones. It also has a negative effect on the economy, with millions of working hours being lost through sickness absence because of stress and other mental health issues that arise from being bullied at work.


    In this guide we’ll look at bullying from your perspective as an employee or worker, with examples and practical actions you can take, together with the ways UK laws can support you if you want to make a claim for compensation for bullying.

    Finally, we’ll discuss the question of whether or not you should try to stay in your job if you’re being bullied, or leave it. If you decide you want to leave, how you should go about it and whether you can get any financial compensation.

    See also our related guides on Harassment, Sexual harassment and Discrimination. Other relevant guides and info sources are highlighted throughout.

    What is bullying at work?

    Most everyday definitions of bullying at work refer to behaviour by the perpetrator which is unwanted, offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting and results in the victim feeling intimidated, humiliated, insulted, degraded or similarly psychologically injured.

    Is there a difference between bullying and harassment?

    The behaviours associated with bullying and harassment are occasionally the same and often very similar. If there is any real difference at all between the two so far as the law is concerned, it is that harassment is recognised in the 2010 Equality Act as being a form of discrimination if it’s carried out against someone who has a ‘protected characteristic’.

    Bullying as something distinct from harassment is not acknowledged in the Equality Act. But because the two behaviours are similar, bullying is often regarded as a form of harassment if the victim has a protected characteristic. See our guide on Harassment at work for further detail.

    Whether or not bullying is treated as a form of harassment in your particular case, there are various other legal claims that you could make as a result of being bullied at work and without having a protected characteristic.

    The most common of these are outlined briefly in the discussion later about legal claims you could make for having been the victim of bullying.

    Examples of workplace bullying

    The following are some common examples of bullying:

    • -Spreading unkind and false rumours about someone
    • -Insulting a person verbally or by way of gestures
    • -Making fun of someone, belittling, humiliating, picking on them
    • -Excluding them from social or professional activities/events
    • -Treating them unfairly
    • -Excessive supervision or other misuses of power
    • -Falsely threatening someone about the security of their job
    • -Setting up a worker to fail by giving them excessive amounts of work and constantly criticising them
    • -Blocking someone’s promotion without good reason
    • -Preventing them from taking up available training opportunities
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    Top Tips

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    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 (see below).

    3. If you feel you need to resign because of bullying, try to negotiate an exit package before resigning.

    What can you do if you’re being bullied?

    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 shouldn’t  suffer in silence. As a first step, you should raise the matter with your employer. This can be done informally or you could put your complaint in writing.


    Raising a grievance against bullying

    Many employers, particularly larger ones, will have a written policy against bullying and you could raise a grievance under that policy or under their 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.

    We offer a range of grievance letter templates for you to copy and adapt to your own situation.


    Employer’s response to your grievance

    Sometimes a formal written complaint in the form of a grievance can lead to the employer dealing with the matter head-on and putting things right.

    Unfortunately, however, employers often string out the grievance process but have no intention of upholding the complaint, nor of doing anything to address it.

    Even worse, they may believe you to be a trouble maker and will 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.

    How to collect evidence to support your complaint

    If you stay in your employment, you should keep a diary to log your complaints so that you have a good record of the exact treatment that you are being subjected to.

    If you can,  gather all evidence and speak to witnesses as events occur,

    Read our article about keeping records for some useful tips about record keeping for grievances at work.

    You could also contemplate legal action, as outlined below.

    Are you being bullied at work?

    Get in touch

    What legal claims can you make for bullying?

    There is no single law in the UK that specifically prohibits bullying in the workplace, but limited legal protection exists in other laws, as outlined below.

    Bullying as a form of discrimination

    As mentioned earlier, if you’re an employee who’s been bullied because you have one or more of the ‘protected characteristics’ specified in the Equality Act 2010, then that is regarded as discrimination and therefore unlawful.

    The protected characteristics in this instance are: age, disability, gender reassignment, racereligion or belief, sex, sexual orientation.

    If you are bullied because of your pregnancy and/or maternity, then you can potentially claim for direct discrimination.

    See our separate guides on Harassment and Discrimination for further discussion.

    Time limits for discrimination claims

    There are strict time limits to bring your discrimination claim to an employment tribunal. The deadline is 3 months less one day from the date of the discrimination. This applies regardless of whether you have submitted a grievance or other internal complaint.

    Personal injury

    If you have suffered a physical or mental injury and you can medically prove it was caused by the bullying 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.

    Time limits for personal injury claims

    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 in every contract of employment, regardless of whether or not they are actually written into the contract. These include such obligations 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 bullying, which leads you to suffer financial loss, then you have a potential claim for breach of contract.

    Time limits for breach of contract cases

    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.

    Constructive dismissal

    If you decide to resign because you’ve found the bullying intolerable, or in response to your employer’s failure to address the bullying, 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 prior to your resignation in order to pursue this type of claim.

    Time limits for constructive dismissal cases

    The deadline for beginning the process to make a constructive dismissal claim is 3 months less one day from the date your resignation took place.

    Should you stay in your job or leave?

    Staying employed

    Staying with your employer and fighting for your rights when your employer refuses to address the bullying issues, is not for everyone.

    • It can have a negative impact on your health and you will need a lot of determination. 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 consists of unfair performance management then your decision to stick it out may be short-lived in any case, as your employer may be planning for this process to lead to your dismissal at some point

    Similarly, pursuing legal action may not be a solution for everyone. This could be because the legal costs may be unaffordable or your lawyer tells you that your case doesn’t have reasonable prospects of succeeding from a legal perspective.

    Leaving with a settlement agreement

    If you are in the above situation, the other option available to you is to leave your employment. This is obviously not something you will do lightly as you stand to lose your 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 so you can leave under a settlement agreement.

    This approach will avoid the time and stress of internal complaints procedures, and the time and cost of legal action, whilst keeping you going financially between jobs.

    Negotiating a settlement agreement

    As bullying is in itself not strictly illegal, it may not always be straightforward to negotiate a decent settlement.

    You could try to negotiate a deal yourself. However, you would need to ensure you were using the right negotiating tactics to be taken seriously and 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 such as Monaco Solicitors (see below).

    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.

    For examples of  without prejudice letters, see our templates list which offers a variety of without prejudice letters that you can freely adapt for use in your own circumstances.


    How to get help with bullying at work

    Do you want some expert advice on what to do about bullying at work?

    Do you want help to negotiate a settlement agreement or make a claim for bullying in an employment tribunal or other court?

    If so, then get in touch with Monaco Solicitors to see if we could help.  We are employment lawyers who only represent employees and are experts in successfully resolving bullying claims.

    Contact us:

    • via this link
    • By phone on 020 7717 5259
    • Email: communications@monacosolicitors.co.uk