Bullying in the workplace

09 July 2019

Bullying in the workplace can have a huge impact on an employee’s health, wellbeing and performance, particularly when it is not dealt with appropriately. Firstly, it is important to be aware of the distinction between bullying and harassment. Whereas harassment is classed as form of discrimination against a specific characteristic that is protected clearly by law, bullying in the workplace is negative behaviour that is not related to a discernible characteristic. It has been found that 1 in 6 individuals have witnessed or suffered from bullying in the workplace, and only 48% of people reported the issue to a manager or HR department (Source: Slater Gordon). A difficulty for employers is establishing what actually accounts to bullying and what is simply a clash of personalities between individuals.

Examples of bullying behaviour

Whether it’s in the office or outside of work, offensive, intimidating and insulting behaviour can take many forms:

  • Spreading malicious rumours that intend to ridicule or humiliate
  • Exclusion
  • Overbearing supervision and misuse of authority
  • Denying training or promotion opportunities unfairly
  • Insulting colleagues or managers via social media

Employees who are bullied are also more prone to absence, which causes problems for employers who have to deal with short staffing issues, pay sick pay, and possibly pay for a temporary employee to cover the absence. Even if the employee remains in work, it is common that individuals who are suffering from bullying struggle to maintain concentration, thus negatively affecting their performance and delivery. If your workplace environment is ripe with bullying issues, you may also find that there is a high staff turnover due to employees losing engagement with the company.

How to prevent bullying

It is highly recommended that every organisation has a clear zero-tolerance bullying and harassment policy in place, which aims to identify and resolve any instances of bullying. Of course, the best way to prevent bullying is to promote a positive staff culture and ensure there is a strong support network in place. This could be in the form of a HR department, or regular meetings with managers to discuss wellbeing. Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to prevent bullying from taking place, therefore it is important to train your employees how to spot the signs of bullying and how to effectively deal with the issue. The most effective means of preventing bullying is undoubtedly education, which aims to teach staff the negative effect it can have on both individuals lives.

The law behind bullying and harassment

A full breakdown of the chapter relating to harassment in the Equality Act 2010 is available here. Bullying presents more of a ‘grey area’ than harassment as there is no current legislation that clearly defines this behaviour unless it against a protected characteristic. However, there is an implied duty of care for the employer to ensure their staff have a working environment that does not affect their health and safety. Failure to do this, or to address reports of bullying, can result in a constructive dismissal claim as covered by the Employment Rights Act 1996.


  • Employers must share a clear zero tolerance bullying and harassment policy with their staff that aims to identify and resolve any instances of bullying.
  • Be aware of protected characteristics, and the difference between bullying and harassment.
  • Although bullying is not protected by law in the same way as harassment, there is still an implied duty of care for the employer to ensure the health, wellbeing and safety of their staff.

  Bullying and harassment is directly related to the following aspects of employment: Bullying and harassment policy Sexual harassment Harassment

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