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Work place bullying: your rights and options

It is everyone’s right to be treated with respect and dignity at work. Bullying doesn’t just exist in schools, unfortunately bullying and harassment is all too common in the workplace too.

Here we will look at some of the important questions about bullying and harassment at work, including the responsibilities of employers and what you can do if you feel that you are a victim of this in your workplace.

What is bullying and harassment?

In many ways bullying and harassment mean the same thing. The terms apply to any behaviour that is offensive, malicious, insulting or intimidating, an abuse of power, and that undermines, denigrates or injures the victim.

Bullying and harassment can happen by one person against another or involve groups of people.

Some examples of bullying are spreading malicious rumours and demeaning and/or picking on colleagues. It can include victimisation and exclusion; treating someone unfairly; and misusing a position of power. It can involve sexual advances and harassment as well as improper conduct in the workplace or work related events. Consistent character attacks, for example for being overweight, may also be classified as bullying.

What forms can bullying and harassment take?

Bullying may occur face-to-face, often out of sight or hearing of others, but can also often happen in the form of messages, emails and over the phone. It can also involve social networking such as Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes unfair dismissals or being treated differently to other colleagues may also be taken as a form of workplace bullying. 

Discrimination due to race, gender, appearance, religion and age, can also be considered a form of harassment, however in the case of clear discrimination, it may be worth speaking to a discrimination solicitor.

What can be the effect of bullying on the individual?

Bullying and harassment in the workplace can have a devastating effect.  Initial feelings of frustration and anger can lead to more severe consequences. Some people retaliate in ways that could get them into trouble; others lose esteem and self respect; people can become generally demotivated and can experience symptoms of physical and mental illness to such an extent that they have to take time off from work. It is also not unusual for people to quit their job altogether as a result of workplace victimisation or bullying

What should the employer do?

Employers have a legal responsibility to prevent bullying and harassment. They should ensure that everyone in the workplace is aware that bullying is not tolerated. Staff should be informed formally of the standards of behaviour that are required. There should be a clear grievance procedure in place at your work.

What can I do if I am a victim of bullying and harassment?

If you came across harassment or any offensive behaviour in the workplace, you have a right to complain to your employer about it even if it wasn’t directed at you. You are entitled to make a complaint even if you are harassed by someone who doesn’t work for your employer, for instance a customer.

What can I do if the bullying and harassment continues?

Employers have a duty of care to their employees. If they fail to prevent bullying in the work place then they have failed in that duty of care.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly at work, you are entitled to raise a grievance with your employer. Your contract, staff handbook or human resources department should be able to explain the correct procedure to follow. However in cases where you are unsure of your rights, or are too scared to approach management with your problems, speak to a local employment solicitor, they may be able to guide you in the right direction, even if legal action may not be necessary.

How do I take legal action?

If your employer does nothing about the bullying and harassment then you can make a claim through an employment tribunal.

You will need to show that you have made attempts to resolve the problem with your employer and you will need to present any records of this that you have made.

Mediation may also be a useful step to take with your employer. Using an accredited mediation service, you may be able to come to a resolution with your employer, without taking legal action.

Getting help

Taking legal action over bullying and harassment is very difficult and it is highly unlikely that you would be able to do so without specialist help. It is very important to talk to a solicitor as soon as possible regarding your options and the chances that you will win your case. You can find your local QualitySolicitors branch here.

QualitySolicitors Parkinson Wright are changing the way you see lawyers. We promise direct lawyer contact, Free First Advice, no hidden-costs, same day response. Tel: 01905 721600

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