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Free EnquiryBullying At Work

Bullying at work - when a 'bit of fun' becomes a problem

No matter how hard you try, you can't get along with everyone. A 'personality clash' with a work colleague or even just someone else's idea of 'a bit of fun' can quickly escalate into a situation that can result in one person feeling victimised. So when does a 'bit of fun' become something more sinister?

The legal definition

Bullying can encompass a wide range of general definitions, but you cannot make a legal claim directly about bullying as such. However, complaints can be made under laws covering discrimination and harassment. Examples of behaviour that could be constituted as 'bullying' include abuse, physical or verbal violence, humiliation and undermining someone's confidence. This can manifest as:

  • Being constantly 'picked on'
  • Humiliated in front of colleagues
  • Unfairly passed over for promotion or denied training opportunities
  • Physical or verbal abuse
  • Electronic 'cyber-bullying' (bullying by email or text)

However, behaviour defined as bullying, unless clearly and unmistakably so, can be easily misinterpreted. If you've been passed over for promotion, it is wise to check the reasons why before you start claiming that it is a symptom of bullying by a superior or boss.

Some workplaces are by their very nature, a little more demanding than others are. Particularly in highly stressed environments, so-called 'horse-play' or verbal sparring can often be a method of reducing the stress levels within the workplace. What you see as bullying may be unintentional or just that 'bit of fun' taken a little too far. In situations like this, it is often quickly resolved merely by a process of arbitration between you and your work colleagues and, if necessary, via a third party such as a Union representative or supervisor. But if there is a clear case of bullying in the workplace, (particularly if it involves physical or witnessed verbal abuse) the matter has to be taken seriously and dealt with quickly.

Taking it further

It can be frightening to pursue a harassment or discrimination case at work you may be in fear of your job or receiving a bad reference or reputation as a 'trouble-maker'. But you have rights, and one of those is to work in a safe environment where you can feel at ease with your co-workers. If you are being bullied at work, the first thing to do is to talk it over with your supervisor or, if you prefer, an impartial third party such as a Union representative or the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (better known as ACAS). If you want to keep the initial problem completely separate from your working environment, you can also talk to your local Citizen's Advice Bureau, who can provide you with free and impartial advice.

Your employer will have a grievance procedure, which should be outlined in detail in your contract of employment. Follow this in the first instance if you do proceed with legal action at a later date, it is important to show that you have taken every step in accordance with your contract to resolve the issue. If the situation is still unresolved after following these steps, you may be left with no alternative other than to go to an Employment tribunal.

Bullying is an unacceptable practice and has no place in any environment, let alone the workplace. The most important thing is to ensure that it does not go unresolved and that others do not end up suffering at the hands of workplace bullies. Bullies are invariably cowardly, and calling them to account for their actions usually resolves the situation. But if you are being bullied, do not feel that you have to suffer in silence for the sake of your job. There is help available and you should take advantage of it at the earliest possible opportunity.

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