Many people in our society are harassed and bullied for a variety of reasons such as race, colour, ethnic or national origin, religious belief, political opinion or affiliation, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age or disability.
Whatever form it takes, bullying and harassment at work is extremely stressful and can affect your work and have an impact on your health and wellbeing.
All employees have the right not to be bullied or harassed. If you are the victim of bullying or harassment (see some examples below) then you can raise a grievance informally or formally with your employer with the objective being that your grievance will be resolved to your satisfaction. In some instances, you might feel you have to resign without notice (in rarer cases with notice) if your position has become untenable. In either event, it is recommended you take legal advice at the earliest opportunity as time is of the essence in these matters.
There is no single definition of bullying but it can be categorised as unwanted behaviour by one individual to another. It can include for example:-
Offensive, threatening or insulting words or behaviour by another employee which makes an individual feel threatened or taken advantage of;
- Humiliation of an employee;
- Verbal abuse;
- Physical violence or violent gestures;
- Giving someone an impossible deadline;
- Removing an employee’s responsibilities and deliberately giving them menial tasks without a genuine justification;
- Deliberate exclusion from conversations;
These examples are not exhaustive or exclusive and instances of a similar nature may fall under the definition of bullying.
There is no free standing complaint in employment law of being bullied. If it is on the grounds of one or more protected characteristic, it can often be dealt with as part of a harassment claim. If you do not possess a protected characteristic under the Equality Act then you may bring a criminal or civil case under the Protection of Harassment Act if you can satisfy the test of harassment. However, such allegations of bullying normally appear in claims for unfair dismissal particularly constructive dismissal where the bullying has made your position untenable.
Harassment can be defined as unwanted conduct because of a protected characteristic such as an individual’s, sex, race, disability, age, religious belief etc that has the purpose or effect of violating the individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual. It can include for example:
- Sending salacious, offensive or abusive messages or pictures by internal or external mail or by fax or by e-mail;
- Leering, whistling at or making sexually suggestive or insulting gestures;
- Making uninvited and unwelcome physical contact;
- Verbal and written harassment through jokes, offensive language, gossip and slander.
These examples are not exhaustive or exclusive and instances of a similar nature may fall under the definition of harassment.
This occurs when you are treated less favourably than others because you make a complaint of a contravention of the Equality Act 2010 (e.g. discrimination) or support someone else in doing this. It also covers the situation where you are treated less favourably because your employer thinks you have made a complaint (even if you have not) or thinks you may make a complaint. Making a complaint would for example include:-
- bringing legal proceedings against your employer for contravening the Equality Act 2010.
- giving evidence or information in connection with legal proceedings for contravening the Equality Act 2010.
- doing any other thing for the purposes of or in connection with the Equality Act 2010
- making an allegation that the Equality Act 2010 has been contravened.
So, for example, if you are denied promotion or training because of your involvement in a complaint of discrimination, this may be considered victimisation. The above provisions would not apply if the complaint is made in bad faith e.g. if the complaint is made up by the employee.
If you believe you have been or are being subject to bullying, harassment or victimisation and need specialist legal advice call us as soon as possible on 01604 700099.