Written by Law Express Ltd.
We often receive calls to the helpline about bullying and harassment in the workplace. The terms bullying and harassment are often spoken about, but what do they mean?
There is no legal definition of bullying, but it is referred to in ACAS guidance as ‘unwanted behaviour from a person that is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting or abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, or causes physical or emotional harm to someone’. Bullying can be committed by an individual or a group of employees.
It is important to remember that bullying may be a one-off incident and could occur in a face-to-face situation or via electronic communications such as e-mails or on social media.
Harassment does have a clear legal definition. It is defined as ‘unwanted conduct’ relating to a protected characteristic which has the effect of violating dignity or creating ‘an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive’ environment. Protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
If you suspect, or are experiencing bullying in the workplace, it would be wise to begin a diary noting the dates, times and witnesses to any incident. This can often be useful if you chose to raise the issue formally, as a grievance. An employer’s handbook will often detail how this can done but it is also worth considering whether you wish to informally raise the issues with the offender(s), or your line manager prior to using the formal process.
Unfortunately, whilst most employers will understand they have a duty of care towards employees to ensure there is a good working environment, resolving these issues can require a number of meetings between the relevant parties and the process may require patience.
You may wish to seek support during the process from colleagues, friends or family. Your employer may offer an employee assistance programme that could assist with emotional support during this difficult time. Our helpline may also be able to assist you with understanding what you can expect from your employer if you are experiencing bullying and harassment at work.