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Detecting and beating bullying in the workplace

Published 13 April 2020

Any form of bullying is completely unacceptable and being able to identify the tactics used by the workplace bully is crucial in being able to tackle it.

One person’s firm management is another person’s bullying. And one person’s banter can be another person’s bullying.

ACAS in its Bullying and Harassment at Work guide characterise bullying as: offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient (1)

Bullying has long been a problem in the workplace and many of the common tactics used have remained the same over the years.

In 2013 the US-based Workplace Bullying Institute published a list of the top 25 workplace bullying tactics (2). That list included:

  • Falsely accused someone of ‘errors’ not actually made.
  • Stared, glared, was non-verbally intimidating and was clearly showing hostility.
  • Discounted the person’s thoughts or feelings (‘oh, that’s silly’) in meetings.
  • Used the ‘silent treatment’ to ‘ice out’ and separate from others.
  •  Made up own rules on the fly that even she/he did not follow.
  • Disregarded satisfactory or exemplary quality of completed work despite evidence.
  • Stole credit for work done by others.
  • Retaliated against the person after a complaint was filed.

Bullying behaviour can often be difficult to prove. Other behaviours allow bullies to go undetected.

People who complain of bullying can sometimes be seen as overreacting to trivial matters.

However, it can often take the form of long-term psychological intimidation and although incidents may seem unimportant in isolation there is a cumulative effect which builds into a much more serious situation.

In a newspaper article titled The Psychology of the Workplace Bully the bully is defined as: people who intimidate or control others to achieve their aims They may collaborate when their goals are being met, but they lack fairness or honesty. Workplace bullies generally manipulate or terrorise those with status below or equivalent to themselves. They may also intimidate superiors, such as threatening to resign at a critical point (3).

While it is pretty easy to recognise the unsophisticated playground bully, workplace bullies utilise more refined tactics.

In 2018 the TUC reported that a survey of safety representatives, showed 45 per cent of safety representatives listed bullying as one of their top five workplace concerns. Overall it was the second biggest workplace issue after stress (4).

The report referenced a large survey on bullying at work by the University of Manchester  which showed that at that time:

  • 1 in 10 workers had been bullied in the last 6 months.
  • 1 in 4 workers had been bullied in the last 5 years.
  • 47% of workers had witnessed bullying at work.

A quarter of employees think their company turns a blind eye to workplace bullying and harassment, according to a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) (5).

Although 15 per cent have experienced bullying in the three years prior to the study, more than half of them did not report it to the firm.

All employers have a legal duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees, which includes protection from bullying and harassment at work (6).

The Employment Rights Act 1996 allows employees to claim unfair dismissal if they are forced the leave their job because of actions by their employer or a failure to deal with any complaint (7).

Employers should have clear policies in place to deal with bullying and take a zero-tolerance approach to such behaviour. Complaints should be taken seriously and dealt with fairly and without unreasonable delay.


(1) Bullying and Harassment at Work guide: [Internet] [cited 6/4/20]

(2) List of the top 25 workplace bullying tactics: [Internet] [cited 6/4/20]

(3) The Psychology of the Workplace Bully: [Internet] [cited 6/4/20]

(4) Survey of safety representatives: [Internet] [cited 6/4/20]

(5) Turns a blind eye to workplace bullying and harassment: [Internet] [cited 6/4/20]

(6) legal duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act: [Internet] [cited 6/4/20]

(7) The Employment Rights Act 1996: [Internet] [cited 6/4/20]


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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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