Workplace Bullying and Harassment

Workplace bullying and harassment can take many forms. The behaviour may be inconsistent in nature and can take place over a long period of time.

Some cases of bullying may be dismissed as ‘banter’ but bullying is actually a serious problem that can affect your health as well as your performance at work if it is not dealt with effectively. Bullying can take place in person, or it may occur in writing or over email. Examples of workplace bullying may include:

  • Being embarrassed or humiliated in front of colleagues, management or customers
  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse or practical jokes
  • Being blamed for the actions or errors of other people

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  • Persistent, unfair criticism
  • Being excluded from meetings and other events
  • Being constantly overworked with unrealistic targets which would actually be impossible to achieve

Workplace harassment means behaviour that affects your dignity whilst you are at work or renders your working environment hostile or offensive to you. Harassment relating to some ‘protected characteristics’ is covered by the Equality Act 2010, and this includes workplace bullying that relates to any of the following:

  • Your disability
  • Your age
  • Your gender, or gender reassignment
  • Your race
  • Your sexual orientation
  • Your pregnancy or period of maternity leave
  • Your marriage or civil partnership
  • Your faith

The types of behaviour that could be considered to be workplace harassment are fairly diverse but could include unfair treatment due to a ‘protected characteristic’, unwanted sexual attention or being subjected to racist or homophobic comments whilst at work. It is still unlawful if you are harassed because someone thinks you have a ‘protected characteristic’ when in fact you do not.

If you feel that you are being bullied or harassed at work, always keep a record of each incident, as well as copies of emails or anything else that occurs in writing. If you experience anxiety or other symptoms as a result of the bullying or harassment, or if you have to seek medical advice, record this as well. If it is safe to do so, it may be worth trying to find out if other colleagues are being affected as well. If your managers are not involved in the workplace bullying or harassment that you are being subjected to, they should put in place measures to stop this from happening to you.

It is very important to understand your rights if you are being subjected to bullying or harassment in the workplace. When you are being persistently bullied or harassed, it can ultimately affect your confidence and eventually your performance at work, and people sometimes feel that they have no choice but to resign as a result, which may give rise to a claim for constructive dismissal.

In fact, the law says that you do not have to put up with bullying and harassment in the workplace, and your employer has a duty of care to protect you from this kind of behaviour and must take appropriate action to stop it from continuing.

If your employers are not helpful, or if the bullying or harassment is coming from your manager or management team, it is very important to seek legal advice as soon as you can, in order to fully understand your rights and also because this area of employment law is subject to strict time limits.

Informal action

It may be possible, depending on the circumstances, to ask the person or group that is harassing you to stop. If you feel able to do this, it is best to ask for a meeting and ask another colleague who has not been involved in the bullying behaviour to come with you for support. Remain calm when speaking to your harasser, regardless of how they choose to behave, and keep a record of the meeting. If a face-to-face meeting is not an option, consider approaching them in writing; however always keep a copy.

The next step is to speak to your manager, or a more senior member of the team if your line manager is the person harassing you. Your employer should take steps to stop the bullying or harassment, by speaking to the perpetrators and ensuring that they stop, and taking whatever other action is necessary depending on their behaviour. If it is suggested that you move to another department or team, the terms must be equal to your current role, and your agreement will be needed.

Making a formal complaint or grievance

Your employer should have in place a formal grievance procedure, setting down how complaints should be dealt with. You should have access to appropriate human resources support and formal action should be taken after your complaint is upheld to resolve the situation.

Constructive dismissal in cases of bullying and harassment

If you find that speaking to management or making a formal complaint does not resolve the situation and you need to seek legal advice, the specialist employment law solicitors at Ackroyd Legal can help you. If you have to resign because of the bullying that you are being subjected to at work, you may have a case for constructive dismissal, meaning that you were forced to resign because of the behaviour of your employer.

It is very important to find out your legal rights before making the decision to resign, because not everyone will be able to make a case for constructive dismissal as this really depends on the individual circumstances. You will need to show that in failing to protect you from bullying and harassment, your employer has seriously breached your contract of employment, and that this was the reason for your dismissal.

If you are considering taking legal action, time will be of the essence, because strict time limits are applied in employment tribunal cases, and you will usually be required to issue a claim within three months (minus one day), from the date of your resignation.

Before lodging an employment tribunal claim, you must first notify the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), which will provide early conciliation in an attempt to reach resolution. An impartial ACAS conciliator will work with both parties with a view to achieving resolution. This early conciliation period will initially last for up to one month and can be extended for up to 14 days if necessary.

This period of early conciliation will not count towards the timeframe of three months (minus one day) within which you must bring your claim. Conciliation is viewed as quicker, less expensive and less distressing than going before a tribunal. However, if it is clear that early conciliation will not resolve the dispute, it will be brought to an end. ACAS will then issue a certificate confirming this, and you can bring your claim before the tribunal.

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