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Bullying at work! What it is and how to deal with it

BY Donald MacKinnon
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

As it is Anti-bullying week, there has been plenty published about what to do if you are being bullied at work but little has been written about an...

On many occasions it can be the employer that is being accused of the bullying so it can be difficult to deal with particularly in a small company with a limited management team.

It is important to understand what bullying is as often one person’s opinion is different to another. Bullying UK define bullying in the workplace as;

“Whilst it may take the form of name calling, physical abuse, social bullying or even cyberbullying, in the workplace, bullying is a form of abusive behaviour where an individual or a group of people, create an intimidating or humiliating work environment for another. This is with the purpose of harming their dignity, safety and well-being. This can make those subjected to it anxious, depressed and it might affect their family life too”

This is quite broad and many attempt to shrug bullying off and see it as a clash of personalities, a robust style of management or commonly just banter. It is important for employers to deal with bullying, know how to spot it, what to do about it and where to seek advice. Under the law, bullying in itself is not illegal but if a colleague or manager is behaving in an intimidating or offensive way this may fall into harassment which is covered in the Equality Act 2010. It will certainly fall under this category if the bullying involves age, gender, religion, race, disability and all the other protected characteristics covered under the Act.

It goes without saying that failure to manage bullying in the workplace can have a negative impact on the morale and performance of employees so it is important to take any allegations of bullying seriously and deal with them promptly. The ACAS Guide on Bullying and Harassment recommends that any investigation should be independent and objective for the outcome to be respected. Employers are encouraged, during the investigation, to understand that the perception of harassment can be felt differently by different people and should ask themselves whether “could what has taken place be reasonably considered to have caused offence?”

Once the investigation has taken place, matters can potentially be dealt with informally where the person or people involved are spoken to and understand that their behaviour has caused offence and this may resolve the issue. If, however, this is not seen as appropriate, counselling or mediation could be required. If the outcome of the investigation shows serious misconduct a disciplinary procedure should be carried out which should follow the ACAS Code of Practice.

Empire can assist you with all of these options to ensure that you deal with any allegations if bullying and harassment properly and reduce the risk of a claim. We have accredited mediators and a team of employment lawyers and HR consultants who can help you through the process.

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