Key questions and answers if you feel you are being bullied at work.
Published 21 March 2023
While the investigation into bullying allegations against Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab is said to be nearing an end, it remains a serious and ongoing issue that many employees in different workplaces are having to deal with.
Mr Raab is facing numerous formal complaints of bullying, which are being investigated by Adam Tolley KC [1 cited 21.3.23]
He denies all allegations of bullying and has said he behaved ‘professionally at all times’, though he says he would resign if an allegation were upheld
Bullying is the scourge of many workplaces across the country.
Workplace bullies come in all shapes and sizes and many different guises. It can be in the form of an overbearing manager, hostile colleague or disrespectful customer.
Bullying is the type of appalling work-related conduct, which if not addressed can wreck careers and literally ruin lives.
It encompasses a wide range of unscrupulous behaviours that can make it complex and difficult to identify, especially in cases where the acts of intimidation are subtle.
ACAS provide a guide on bullying and harassment in the workplace [2 cited 21.3.23 ] . The guide does state:
Although there is no legal definition of bullying, it can be described as unwanted behaviour from a person or group that is either:
- Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting.
- An abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, or causes physical or emotional harm to someone.
Bullying at work can leave you feeling isolated, afraid, confused, and ashamed that it has happened to you although it is no fault of your own.
Some of the effects of bullying at work include: depression and anxiety, loss of confidence, low self-esteem, sleep disturbance, increased stress and physical problems e.g. high blood pressure and even heart disease.
If you are being bullied at work it is normal for you to question and doubt yourself and think you may be blowing things out of proportion, as some incidents can seem insignificant in isolation.
But because of the different forms of bullying there can be a cumulative effect with such incidents, which creates a much more serious situation.
There may be some overlap between bullying and harassment. Bullying is behaviour intended to hurt or undermine someone. While harassment is bullying behaviour related to a protected characteristic, which is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 [3 cited 21.3.23]
Here we take a specific at five key questions you may ask if you feel you are being bullied at work.
- Am I being bullied or is my manager just firm but fair and is it just harmless ‘banter’ from my colleagues?
It is not uncommon to ask such questions, as bullying can take many forms and be difficult to identify.
But there are some key signs, which include:
- Continuous and unwarranted criticism, verbal abuse, or ridicule.
- Deliberately being ignored and made to feel excluded or isolated from work-related activities or conversations.
- Excessive workload and unrealistic or unfair deadlines to complete work.
- Unreasonable demands with the threat of punitive consequences if you do not comply.
- Physical or verbal abuse or intimidation.
- Malicious rumours or gossip.
- Unjustly being denied opportunities for training or promotion.
- When the prospect of attending work triggers negative emotions e.g. anxiety, stress, or depression.
If you are experiencing any of the above, you must report it to a manager or HR advisor as soon as possible or speak to someone you trust e.g. colleague, trade union rep, relative or friend for help and support.
- But how do I prove I have been bullied at work?
It can be difficult because it is often subtle and devious, but steps you can take to back up your case can include:
- Keep a diary-style record of incidents with dates, times, and specific details of what happened as it can help you to provide clear and consistent details to substantiate your claim.
- Save any relevant emails or messages. A lot of work-related communication can be via email or other messages. They can provide crucial evidence of bullying e.g. threats and insults, or to support aspects of your unfavourable treatment.
- Colleagues can often be vital witnesses, so you can ask if they will provide statements.
- If you have suffered mental or emotional distress and been forced to seek medical or psychological help, then documentation of any treatment can help to support your case.
These are practical steps that can help you to prove your case.
- How should I report that I am being bullied at work?
Tell a manager or HR advisor. Your employer should have policies that provide details about how you can report bullying.
These are some steps you can take to report bullying:
- As a first step and only if you feel able, confident and comfortable to do so, you can try talking to the bully.
If you are unable to do so on your own ask for support from someone you feel comfortable with to help you to do so.
In some cases it can be effective, as the perpetrator may not be aware of the effect of their actions and it can make it stop.
This approach will not be appropriate or practical in all cases.
- Your employer should have a formal procedure or process for raising a grievance whether formally or informally and it is important to follow this process, where possible [4 cited 21.3.23] .
You should be able to find details of your employer's grievance procedure and process in your company handbook or get details from HR.
If your employer does not have a formal procedure, you can always follow the ACAS Code of Practice [5 cited 21.3.23]
A formal grievance should be in writing and detail the nature of the complaint.
- Seek support to help you raise the matter. It can be from a close friend, relative, trusted workmate, or employment law expert who can advise you on your legal options and help you take appropriate action.
Reporting bullying can be a difficult and unsettling process, but do not be discouraged from acting to protect your well-being.
- Will my employer protect me?
Yes it should. All employers have a duty to provide a safe and healthy working environment, free from bullying [6 cited 21.3.23]
If you report bullying your employer should:
- Provide you with meaningful support e.g. a point of contact to talk to and discuss any concerns with, or give you details of any employee assistance service.
- Keep the matter confidential and ensure you or any colleague who supports your complaint does not suffer reprisals.
- Take your complaint seriously and investigate without unreasonable delay and carry out a thorough and fair investigation. You should be given the right to appeal if you are unhappy with the investigation outcome.
- If your allegation is upheld take appropriate action against the perpetrator/s, which can include disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.
- Follow up with you to check the bullying has stopped once the investigation is completed and to provide any ongoing support that may be necessary.
If you feel your employer is not providing appropriate support you should in the first instance discuss the matter with it. If that does not help you may need to seek advice from an employment law expert.
- What if my employer does not take my complaint seriously?
If you remain aggrieved after exhausting your employer’s internal grievance or similar process, seek advice on the best option in your situation.
You should contact our specialist Employment Law team, which can provide you with initial free and practical advice.
Contact us today for specialist free employment law advice.