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Workplace Bullying: An Employers Law Guide

How to deal with bullying in the workplace

Bullying at work is extremely serious, potentially damaging the workforce morale, harming an employee's health or wellbeing, or even causing an employer to be served with tribunal papers. This Peninsula Q&A explains how to deal with bullying in the workplace.

What is the definition of workplace bullying?

Although bullying amongst adults is more subtle than in the schoolyard, it is no less serious. Workplace bullying consists of repeatedly mistreating one or more individuals, perpetrated by one or more colleagues or managers. Actions considered bullying include:

  • Humiliation
  • Intimidation
  • Physical or verbal abuse
  • Creating work interference or sabotage
  • Regular unfair treatment, e.g. being given an excessive workload, misplaced blame
  • Unfounded and unsupported criticism
  • Being picked on via phone or email

How does workplace bullying relate to employment law?

Workplace harassment – bullying based on the victim's gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc – is an offence, and could see the individual responsible taken to court. In addition, employers can also face a tribunal for creating an environment where this behaviour goes unchecked and unchastised. However, in most cases you cannot be taken to an employment tribunal over bullying at work unless it is regarded as harassment, discrimination, or constructive dismissal.

What can employers do about bullying in the workplace?

The most important piece of employer law advice on dealing with harassment at work is to formulate and implement a policy on bullying. Having a clear set of rules and a formal complaints procedure will help enforce your company's no-tolerance stance on bullying. After all, it is detrimental to the organisation as a whole as well as the individuals targeted. Fostering a supportive environment and ensuring managers and HR staff always have an open door and are approachable will help your employees feel they can talk to somebody.

However, employees should not be relied on to report workplace bullying. It is up to everybody in the business to look out for signs of bullying and intimidating behaviour, especially as it can often be mistaken for a strong managerial approach. In short, vigilance and sensitivity are key to nipping workplace bullying in the bud.

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