How to combat workplace bullies

15-04-2004

There is no specific UK legislation to protect those who may be suffering, or have suffered, from bullying at work.

But that does not mean there is nothing that can be done to protect yourself from a bully in the workplace.

As well as practical measures a bullying target can take, there is some legal protection or redress against some types of behaviour, although a suffering employee must look to different parts of related employment law.

Often employees have to bring action against employers using the Sex Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act or Protection from Harassment Act.

What you can do if being bullied
  • Recognise you are being bullied
  • Realise it is not your fault
  • Tell bully actions unacceptable
  • Inform manager/HR of bullying
  • Tell union rep if there is one
  • Keep a diary of what happens
  • Keep copies of letters, memos, emails
  • Build a support network (friends, family)
  • See doctor if bullying causes stress
  • Record a formal grievance
  • Consider changing your job
Another piece of legislation that can be used in the absence of anti-bulling legislation is the Employment Rights Act, which deals with unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal and victimisation.

The Health & Safety At Work Act, Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act, and Public Interest Disclosure Act can also offer redress in some instances.

However, it would be in the interests of the employee and employer to resolve any issues of bullying before having to turn to tribunals or courts.

Leaving aside the damage that can be done to a worker's physical and mental health, and a possibly ruined career, there is always the possibility of the employer having to pay compensation and legal fees following any legal battle.

Keeping records

So what can those who believe they are on the receiving end of bullying do?

"First thing to do is realise it is bullying. Do not keep telling yourself it is your fault or that you are imagining it," said Mr Field who runs the Bully Online website to help past or current bully targets.

"Before action can be taken, there has to be an acknowledgment that bullying is taking place.

"Those who are being targeted should tell the bully that they are unhappy with the way they are being treated, and that they believe they are being bullied.

"You should also inform your line-manager, which is not always possible as they are often the bully, tell your human resources department, and if there is a union let your rep know.

"Keep a diary of events, and a copy of all phone, email and text messages.

"That will back up your case in any initial discussions, and also if you have to make a formal complaint and initiate a grievance procedure.

"And, if you do end up having going to go to a tribunal, it will be regarded as 'a contemporaneous document'.

"However, if the bullying becomes unbearable and your employer is doing nothing to combat it, then the most pragmatic thing is to decide to change jobs; it is a positive decision not to have your career and life ruined or your health destroyed."

If staff believe they have been forced out by bullying then there is always the option of going to an industrial tribunal for compensation.

Reinstatement is also a possible option although not necessarily a desirable one.

By Bill Wilson
BBC News

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