Workplace bullying is one of the commonest reasons for employees needing to take long term sick leave from their jobs. It costs employers thousands each year, yet it seems to be something that is either swept under the carpet and not talked about, or dealt with in an inappropriate or ineffective manner.
What actually is bullying in the workplace?
The terms bullying, victimisation and harassment are frequently used synonymously. In the UK currently, bullying has no legal definition however is commonly viewed upon as offensive, malicious, intimidating or abusive behaviour; misuse or abuse of power with the intention to in some way injure or undermine the recipient. Bullying is unwarranted and unwelcome. In work, it generally occurs when a person in a more senior position appears to be intimidating or acting offensively to a person in a junior position. On the whole, a legal claim for bullying comes under harassment legislation.
What actually is harassment at work?
Harassment could be described as a person suffering through the unwelcome conduct of someone else on grounds including race, age, gender, religion and nationality, which ultimately demeans or humiliates the victim. Harassment and bullying is not limited to being face to face, it can also occur via emails and any other forms of communication.
Bullying and Harassment Claims
Generally, bullying, harassment or victimisation claims are linked closely to discriminatory grounds such as race or sex. Workers claim they have been victimised in many cases because they may have attempted to argue their rights under discrimination legislation (this is acknowledged as a “protected act” and as a result, have been subject to prejudice), but the right not to be bullied or victimised is broader than that and refers to employees who make whistleblowing claims, or suggest there are health and safety issues or who accompany a colleague by taking time off work who is going through a grievance or disciplinary procedure and who may be subject to a detriment, amid other categories.
What are my rights in respect of bullying at work?
Along with claims under particular employment legislation, it may be possible for a worker suffering from harassment or bullying to make a claim for breach of their contract because of a breach in their employment contract of an implied term. The 3 most significant in this context include (i) the term of mutual confident and trust (ii) the employer is to provide a safe system of work and (iii) an implied term relating to the case of Waters v Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police  that “the employer shall render reasonable support to an employee to ensure that the employee can carry out the duties of his job without harassment and disruption by fellow workers”.