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Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Bullying in the workplace

You shouldn't have to put up with bullying at work. Read about what bullying is and how to tell if you're being bullied, and details of what you can do to stop it.

What is bullying at work?

Bullying at work is when someone tries to intimidate another worker, often in front of colleagues. It's usually, though not always, done to someone in a less senior position.

It's similar to harassment, which is where someone's behaviour is offensive - for example, making sexual comments, or abusing someone's race, religion or sexual orientation.

It's not possible to make a legal claim directly about bullying, but complaints can be made under laws covering discrimination and harassment. If you're forced to resign due to bullying you can make a constructive dismissal claim.

Examples of bullying behaviour

Bullying includes abuse, physical or verbal violence, humiliation and undermining someones confidence. You are probably being bullied if, for example, you're:

  • constantly picked on
  • humiliated in front of colleagues
  • regularly unfairly treated
  • physically or verbally abused
  • blamed for problems caused by others
  • always given too much to do, so that you regularly fail in your work
  • regularly threatened with the sack
  • unfairly passed over for promotion or denied training opportunities

Bullying can be face-to-face, in writing, over the phone or by fax or email.

Before taking action

If you think you're being bullied, its best to talk it over with someone, because what seems like bullying might not be. For example, you might have more work to do because of a change in the way your organisation is run. If you find it difficult to cope, talk to your manager or supervisor, who might be as concerned as you are. Sometimes all it takes is a change in the way you work to give you time to adjust.

What to do if you're bullied at work

Employers have a 'duty of care' to their employees and this includes dealing with bullying at work. There are measures you can take if you're being bullied.

Get advice

Speak to someone about how you might deal with the problem informally. This might be:

  • an employee representative like a trade union official
  • someone in the firms human resources department
  • your manager or supervisor

Some employers have specially trained staff to help with bullying and harassment problems theyre sometimes called 'harassment advisers'. If the bullying is affecting your health, visit your GP.

Talk to the bully

The bullying may not be deliberate. If you can, talk to the person in question, who may not realise how their behaviour has been affecting you. Work out what to say beforehand. Describe whats been happening and why you object to it. Stay calm and be polite. If you don't want to talk to them yourself, ask someone else to do so for you.

Keep a written record or diary

Write down details of every incident and keep copies of any relevant documents.

Making a formal complaint

This is the next step if you cant solve the problem informally. To do this you must follow your employer's grievance procedure, or if one doesnt exist you can use the statutory grievance procedure.

Some awkward situations

The bully is your manager, but the firm's grievance procedure says that's who you should speak to

Make the complaint in writing to your line manager, and ask that it’s passed on to another manager to look into. If that doesn’t happen or isn’t possible, make the complaint to your boss’s manager, or the human resources department.

The person bullying you is a sole trader or the firm's managing director or owner

Follow the grievance procedure. It may help you later if you have to take legal action against your employer.

Your boss is violent and abusive towards you and you're afraid to make a complaint

If you think that making a complaint will cause further bullying or harassment, you don’t need to follow normal grievance procedures. In cases like this, you can still then take legal action if you wish.

What about taking legal action?

Sometimes the problem continues even after you've followed your employer's grievance procedure. If nothing is done to put things right, you can think about legal action, which may mean going to an employment tribunal. Get professional advice before taking this step.

Remember that it's not possible to go to a tribunal directly over bullying, but complaints can be made under laws covering discrimination and harassment.

If you've left your job because of bullying, you might be able to claim unfair 'constructive' dismissal. This can be difficult to prove, so it's important to get advice from a specialist lawyer or other professional.

Where to get help

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues. You can call the Acas helpline on 08457 47 47 47 from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm Monday to Friday.

The Andrea Adams Trust is a charity committed to preventing workplace bullying.

Andrea Adams Trust 01273 704 900 (10.00 am to 4.00 pm, Monday to Friday)

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can provide free and impartial advice. You can find your local CAB office in the phone book or online.

If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.

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