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Taking on and beating the workplace bully

Published 22 April 2019

Taking on and beating the workplace bully

Bullying in the workplace can have devastating consequences for the victim and dealing with it should be a priority for all employers.

It not only affects those who are the target of it, but also the perpetrator and others who witness it.

The ACAS Bullying and Harassment at Work guide does state: Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. (1)

Workplace bullying can have a serious physical, emotional and/or mental health impact on victims. It can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety, lack of confidence, lack of sleep, severe mental anguish, depression and even suicide

Last year it was reported that a construction worker took his own life after he was relentlessly bullied at work (2)

His widow told an inquest into his death that he could go to work happy and come home crying. She said on Sunday her husband would often dread having to return to work on Monday morning.

The court was told that he had been actively looking for another job but, in the interim, had told his wife that he just had to learn to deal with it.

All employers have a duty of care to their employees, which includes dealing with bullying at work. Employers should take a zero-tolerance approach to all types of bullying, take any complaints seriously and act promptly.

A study by solicitors Slater & Gordon in 2015 quizzed two thousand working people and found that six in 10 had witnessed or suffered bullying (3)

Shouting, shoving, intimidation and threatening behaviour were all reported by respondents. While most people had witnessed or believed they had faced bullying in the workplace, less than half (48 per cent) did anything about it.

It appears the problem is still prevalent in UK workplaces. Unison published a survey in October last year, which reported that 70 per cent of its safety reps said that bullying and harassment was one of their top five hazards of concern at work (4)

Employees cannot make a tribunal claim directly about bullying, but they can under laws covering discrimination and harassment.

Being subjected to intimidation at work can make a workplace unbearable. If an employee is forced to resign as a result of bullying they can make a constructive dismissal claim (5)

It can be difficult to detect workplace bullying as it can be subtle and complex at times. There are some examples, such as physical and sexual harassment and discrimination that are obvious and evident.

There are other workplace behaviours that may not be instantly recognisable as bullying, and therefore are accepted without complaint. Examples include being deliberately isolated and excluded, overbearing monitoring or hints or comments that an individual should quit.

Employers should make employees aware of how they can raise any complaints, and create an environment where the victims of workplace bullying feel confident and supported should they do so.

The ACAS guide on bullying lists a number of key considerations that should help to prevent bullying behaviour:

  • develop and implement a formal policy: this can be kept simple, but you should consider involving staff when writing it
  • set a good example: the behaviour of employers and senior managers is as important as any formal policy
  • maintain fair procedures for dealing promptly with complaints from employees
  • set standards of behaviour with an organisational statement about the standards of behaviour expected; this could be included in the staff handbook.

The TUC has provided advice on steps for employees to take if they are being bullied at work (6) It includes: if you feel confident to do so, speak to the bully; tell a friend or work colleague; report it to your trade union if you are in one or join one; keep a diary of incidents; tell your manager; and make a formal complaint


  1. Acas [Internet] [cited on 15.4.19]
  2. Relentlessly bullied at work [Internet] [Cited on 15.4.19]
  1. Study by Slater and Gordon [Internet] [Cited on 15.4.19]
  2. Unison Survey [Internet] [cited 15.4.19]
  3. Citizens advice [internet] [Cited on 15.4.19]
  4. TUC advice on being bullied [Internet] [Cited on 15.4.19]

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For free 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. 0333 772 0611

A reputation built on success

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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