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Work is still needed to empower employees to report bullying

Published 06 December 2021

Bullying is the scourge of many workplaces but it seems a lot of workers do not trust their employer to deal with it – and don’t know how to report it.

A new study, which quizzed 2,000 adults, has revealed half of UK workers believed their employers do not take bullying seriously [1 cited 06/12/21]

It also highlighted that the lowest paid workers, those who earn £15,000 or less, are the least likely to know what to do if something happened to them.

If employees feel as if they cannot report bullying it can have a negative and damaging impact on any workplace.

It can create a toxic working environment and harm productivity and staff morale.

Although there is no one specific law that outlaws workplace bullying, employers are expected to take a zero-tolerance approach to it, regardless of earnings or status.


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 [2 cited 06/12/21]


Bullying and harassment are terms that are used interchangeably, with bullying often regarded as a type of harassment.


There are, however, some notable differences, which are particularly important to bear in mind.


Harassment is against the law when it is related to a protected characteristic, e.g. age, sex, disability, religion, covered by the Equality Act 2010 [3 cited 06/12/21]

Workplace bullying can have an extremely serious and damaging impact on the victim. It can cause severe emotional and mental health problems and lead to suicidal thoughts.


ACAS state that 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 [4 cited 06/12/21]

In the ACAS guide on bullying and harassment at work it lists a few examples of bullying behaviour, which include:

  • Someone has spread a malicious rumour about you
  • Someone keeps putting you down in meetings
  • Your boss keeps giving you a heavier workload than everyone else
  • Someone has put humiliating, offensive or threatening comments or photos on social media
  • Someone at the same or more junior level as you keeps undermining your authority

All workplaces should have policies in place to ensure staff know how to report bullying and understand how they will be supported if they do so.

It can be incredibly difficult for the victim of bullying to find the courage to report to management what is happening, or has happened, to them.

For employers it is important to listen, not be judgemental or defensive, be supportive, take complaints seriously and investigate allegations promptly, thoroughly and fairly.

Most policies that deal with bullying will often advise an initial informal attempt to deal with the allegations where practicable.

In many cases the employer will need to investigate and take formal action to address an allegation.

This may mean having to utilise the grievance procedure, and later the disciplinary process to deal with anyone found to have engaged in bullying behaviour.

The ACAS Code sets out minimum standards which employers and employees should follow when dealing with grievances or disciplinary issues [5 cited 06/12/21].

Dealing with and investigating allegations of bullying can be time-consuming, may require additional resources and be costly.

But it can allow an employer to manage the associated risks and identify any failings, which may have played a part in the original bullying.

It can also be an opportunity to adapt internal procedures and systems to try to prevent similar bullying behaviour in future.

An employer should review any bullying policy and procedure to ensure it aligns with its mission, vision and values.

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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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