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What counts as bullying in the workplace?

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Experiencing unfair treatment in the workplace can be distressing and can have an impact on your life both in and out of work. You may be worried about your financial situation if you leave, your performance at work, or suffer from low self-esteem. However, there are laws to protect employees from such treatment, but you must first understand what type of negative treatment you are experiencing under the law. In this article, we look at what bullying in the workplace is, and what you can do if you are a victim.

What is bullying? 

Bullying is where you experience behaviours from a person or group of people that make you feel uncomfortable, frightened, made fun of, or put down.

What are some examples of bullying in the workplace?

Bullying can take many different forms, but typical examples include:

  • Someone continually putting you down in meetings or in front of superiors
  • Someone spreading rumours about you
  • When you are prevented from joining in social events by the rest of your team
  • When your boss doesn’t let you attend training or social events but allows everyone else

Bullying can be a regular pattern of behaviour or a one-off incident and doesn’t necessarily have to happen at the workplace. It is possible to experience bullying at a workplace social event, on social media, by email or phone call or face-to-face.

It is also possible to experience bullying from junior members of staff if you are a more senior employee. This is known as upwards bullying and may include actions such as:

  • Refusing to carry out instructions or tasks you have delegated to them
  • Spreading rumours about you
  • Showing disrespect towards you
  • Doing things to make you seem incompetent

What is the difference between bullying and harassment?

Bullying is deemed to be harassment under the law where it is related to a protected characteristic. The protected characteristics are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • pregnancy and maternity

What can I do about bullying in the workplace?

Where there is a pattern of bullying, you should try to keep a record. Include details such as:

  • The date and time of the incidents
  • Evidence such as emails, screenshots or details of any witnesses
  • The effects of the bullying such as how it made you feel or any impact on your performance at work

This information will act as evidence to support the allegation that you are being treated unacceptably.

Where appropriate, you should consider speaking to those involved in the bullying behaviour and explain how the behaviour makes you feel. If you do not wish to speak to them face to face, you could set out the facts in an email. If you do not feel comfortable to raise the issue directly with the perpetrator, you could speak to a trade union representative or someone else at work to help you, whether a colleague, a member of the HR team or Line Manager.  You employer may have a policy that covers bullying, which confirms the process you might wish to follow in raising the issue and who it is recommended you speak to. 

You may also choose to raise a formal grievance about the treatment you are suffering which should then prompt a formal process to commence, which should include an investigation into your complaints with a view to seeking an appropriate resolution  Where the unacceptable conduct continues despite taking steps to try and resolve the situation, you may wish to consider taking legal advice on what further options might be open to you, which could include pursuing of a claim within the Employment Tribunal if the issue is not properly resolved by the employer.

Ultimately, Employment law exists to help protect people in these situations and legal mechanisms are in place to ensure that no one has to tolerate workplace bullying.


If you are an employer who needs guidance with managing the impacts of mental health in the workplace or putting a policy in place, we are here to help.  Please do not hesitate to contact our friendly Employment Law team on 01205 351114 or 01522 814638.

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