16 November 2017

Bullying in the workplace is not part of the job

Article by Tina Maxey, Head of HR Services at Hayes + Storr Solicitors.

Last week was anti-bullying week, and whilst the spotlight is on schools to take action, it is not just in the school playground that bullying occurs. Bullying and harassment is a major problem in the UK workplace, yet it often remains undetected and can be accepted or even encouraged by the culture of an organisation.

A 2015 poll carried out by YouGov for the TUC revealed that:

  • Nearly a third of people (29%) are bullied at work
  • The highest prevalence of workplace bullying is amongst 40 to 59-year-olds, where 34% of adults are affected
  • In nearly three-quarters (72%) of cases the bullying is carried out by a manager
  • More than one in three (36%) people leave their job as a result of bullying

One person’s bullying might be considered another person’s robust management style, whilst others may recognise the problem but either lack the confidence or skills to deal with it, or simply turn a blind eye. Sometimes senior management are reluctant to act, especially if the perpetrators have been with the company for a long time and maintain key accounts and/or client relationships.

People may be surprised to learn that there is no specific law against bullying unless it is against a protected characteristic, for which protection against harassment and discrimination is afforded under the Equality Act 2010. The protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

The ACAS guide on harassment and bullying defines bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour; abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.”

Whilst there is no specific law against bullying, there is a ‘duty of care’ under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, for an employer to ensure all employees work in an environment that does not affect their health and safety. There is also an implied duty of trust and confidence. If employers ignore bullying, it can result in a claim for constructive dismissal or, in serious cases, a personal injury claim.

Bullying can have a knock-on effect in other ways. According to bullyonline.org, a website set up by the late Tim Fields, a prominent British anti-bullying activist and author of two books on the subject – workplace bullying “destroys teams and causes disenchantment, demoralisation, demotivation, disaffection, and alienation. Organisations become dysfunctional and inefficient, where staff turnover and sickness absence are high whilst morale, productivity and profitability are low. Any perceived efficiency gains from bullying are a short term illusion: Bullying puts long term prospects at serious risk.”

If you feel that you are being bullied at work, I recommend you visit the bullyonline website which helps identify what workplace bullying is, why it exists and strategies on how to cope with it.

Workplace bullying damages a company’s reputation and its bottom line. It can occur behind closed doors with no witnesses and no obvious evidence. Often bullies keep their jobs and good people leave. However, the responsibility to deal with bullying lies with the employer and senior management. If bullying is left unchecked, it can be costly to employers. Therefore the focus for employers should be on prevention.

What can employers do to prevent bullying in the first place?

  • Have a policy in place for behaviour in the workplace. However, policies are not enough on their own. A policy will only be effective if employees are aware of its existence and have the confidence to use it
  • Look out for subtler signs in amongst employee relationships, including jealousy and sabotage of a person’s efforts to succeed
  • Lead by example. This is one of the most important steps. Management should set the standards by which the rest of the workforce follows
  • Train managers to identify signs of bullying and to have difficult conversations, so issues can be nipped in the bud before they escalate
  • Manage discipline and grievances at work. Complaints should be dealt with promptly and fairly
  • Monitoring and reviewing. Policies and procedures should be monitored and reviewed regularly

Having a clear behavioural policy in place enables employers to tackle bullying and retain talent for a happy, progressive, working environment.

Sources: TUC, bullyonline.org, ACAS

This article aims to supply general information, but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek our specific advice.

If you would like further advice on this matter please contact Tina on 01328 863231 or email tina.maxey@hayes-storr.com.

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