What is often viewed as a school playground problem can cause real difficulties for employers. Bullying or harassment in the workplace are unfortunately not at all uncommon, and employers must be aware of how to tackle the problem in order to comply with their duty of care towards employees.

Whilst it isn’t possible for an employee to bring a claim directly to an Employment Tribunal on the grounds of bullying, if the bullying behaviour relates to one of the current protected characteristics then the employee can make a claim of discrimination under the harassment provisions. Bullying is not always a visible attack on someone and can be the prevention of another employee’s promotion by blocking their progress, or setting them up to fail by stipulating too high targets.

Employers may find it wise to implement an anti-bullying policy. Such a policy should give a clear and unambiguous message to all employees that certain types of behaviour will not be tolerated in your workplace. Examples of prohibited behaviour should be given and employees should be made aware that, should these actions be undertaken, they will be dealt with via the company’s disciplinary procedure. The policy should be prominently displayed, or even given to all new employees, as part of an induction procedure.

Senior managers and others with line management responsibilities should receive training in the major issues of bullying. After the training, they should be able to recognise behaviour that constitutes bullying so that they are prepared to identify occurrences amongst employees. They should also be familiar with the effect that bullying can have on the workplace and an individual so, where the manager does not see the bullying itself, they will be able to see who may be being targeted. This, in particular, is significant because victims of bullying may not always feel comfortable with ‘telling on’ their perpetrators.

If instances of bullying are brought to your attention, you should ensure that you take the complaint seriously and investigate it promptly, recording your findings. This can usually be done with your organisation’s grievance and disciplinary procedure. The procedures should be implemented fairly and consistently. Consistency is key to these procedures as this will strengthen your employees’ trust in the procedure to resolve their problem.

Employers should be sympathetic to employees whilst investigating an instance of alleged bullying. Be sure to make the employee who is alleging bullying aware that you will act confidentially and sensitively and then make sure you follow this through. Not doing this will undermine the employee and make them fear reprisals, reducing confidence in reporting any further occurrences of bullying they may encounter.

Finally, it is important to set a consistent standard of punishment to employees who bully others so that everyone realises just what their ‘comeuppance’ will be. Look back at past disciplinary actions against employees who have been found to bully others and apply those actions to similar circumstances. Implementing a hard line when it comes to bullying will support your zero tolerance stance, and similar treatment across the board will instil confidence in your employees that bullying is treated formally by your organisation.

If you are worried about bullying in your workplace, or would like further advice on the subject, contact the Advice Service on 0844 892 2772 and one of our specialists will be waiting to help.