I think I’m being bullied at work, but I’m not sure it counts as harassment. What can I do?

Workplace bullying is commonplace, although you might not think it. It is extremely possible that  someone whom a colleague or manager is bullying may not consciously realise it is happening and certainly may not mention this to anyone.

Behaviour that accounts to bullying includes unwarranted criticism, nit-picking, finding faults, exclusion, spreading rumours, being treated differently, being verbally abused, having written warnings imposed and micromanaging. It may be an individual against an individual, or involve a whole group of people or department.

There are a number of reasons why bullying takes place. The most common is that the bully him or herself feels insecure or inadequate. By highlighting the failings of another, he or she is trying to give the illusion of superiority. A bully’s behaviour can have significant effects on an entire organisation, which is another reason why it cannot be ignored. Staff turnover will increase, as will sickness absence and stress breakdowns. Whole teams might be induced to hand in their notice if the bully holds a place in the senior management team.

In terms of the legal position of an employee who feels bullied, it is down to the employer to prevent harassing behaviour. An organisational statement to all staff about the behavior expected will make situations easier for employers to deal with.

It is not possible to make a direct complaint to a tribunal about bullying, but there are laws that cover discrimination and harassment. For example:

• Sex Discrimination Act

• Race Relations Act, amended by the Race Regulations in 2003

• Disability Discrimination Act

• Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations

• Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations

• Employment Equality (Age) Regulations.

However, before it becomes necessary to turn to the law for help, it is better to explore other avenues first. Speaking to the bully may be an option, in which case it should always be attempted.

It’s also worth considering:

• Is there an organisational statement that you can consult?

• Can you talk over problems with a line manager, union representative or colleague?

• Has there been a change in management or organisational structure that you need time to adjust to?

Talking the problem through with a colleague should be a first port of call. Keeping a diary of incidents will also be handy, particularly if the situation does require you to go to a tribunal.


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