Workplace bullying: an employers law guide
How to deal with bullying in the workplace
Bullying at work is extremely serious, potentially damaging the workforce morale, harming an employee's health or wellbeing, or even causing an employer to be served with tribunal papers. This Peninsula Q&A explains how to deal with bullying in the workplace.
What is the definition of workplace bullying?
Although bullying amongst adults is more subtle than in the schoolyard, it is no less serious. Workplace bullying consists of repeatedly mistreating one or more individuals, perpetrated by one or more colleagues or managers. Actions considered bullying include:
- Humiliation or intimidation
- Physical or verbal abuse
- Creating work interference or sabotage
- Regular unfair treatment, e.g. being given an excessive workload, misplaced blame
- Unfounded and unsupported criticism
- Being picked on via phone or email
How does workplace bullying relate to employment law?
Workplace harassment – bullying based on the victim's gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc – is an offence, and could see the individual responsible taken to court. In addition, employers can face a tribunal for creating an environment where this behaviour goes unchecked and unchastised. However, in most cases you cannot be taken to an employment tribunal over bullying at work unless it is regarded as harassment, discrimination, or constructive dismissal.
What can employers do about bullying in the workplace?
The most important piece of employer law advice on dealing with harassment at work is to formulate and implement a policy on bullying. Having a clear set of rules and a formal complaints procedure will help enforce your company's no-tolerance stance on bullying. After all, it is detrimental to the organisation as a whole as well as the individuals targeted. Fostering a supportive environment will help your employees feel they can talk to somebody.
However, employees should not be relied on to report workplace bullying. It is up to everybody in the business to look out for signs of bullying and intimidating behaviour, especially as it can often be mistaken for a strong managerial approach. In short, vigilance and sensitivity are key to nipping workplace bullying in the bud.
How Peninsula can help
Workplace bullying and stress
Bullying in the workplace can often take its toll on the emotional wellbeing of a victim, leading to stress and absence. On the other hand, it's not unusual to find those suffering with work related stress taking out their frustrations on colleagues. Peninsula clients may therefore benefit from the Employee Assistance Programme, which provides face-to-face counselling for employees. Online stress assessments could help detect problems before they become obvious, while employees can access helplines to receive impartial advice on their situation.
Peninsula clients can book sessions of bespoke employment law and HR training. This can cover any topics you require, from health & safety to maternity leave or wages. If you want to learn how to spot the signs of workplace bullying and deal with the problem effectively, this can also be incorporated into your training.
Dismissing a bully
If you need to discipline or dismiss an employee because of their conduct, it's important to be careful in a potential minefield of legislation. Employment law advice from Peninsula can prove invaluable in this situation – available online or by phone, you could avoid pitfalls such as unfair dismissal. If you are taken to employment tribunal, you can enlist the services of a Peninsula employment law specialist to help prepare the case and even represent you. However, bullying in the workplace is classed as gross misconduct; so with enough evidence on your side, dismissal can be justified.