Bullying in the workplace – what you need to know

30th November 2020

Unsurprisingly, workplace bullying has become a hot topic recently given the issue surrounding Priti Patel and the results of the internal government report which had found she had breached the Ministerial Code by bullying staff at the Home Office.

Sir Alex Allan, who carried out the investigation, found on occasions that Ms Patel’s approach amounted to behaviour that could be described as bullying.

Ms Patel’s version was that the issues were not pointed out to her at the time and any upset caused was completely unintentional. Boris Johnson has supported and backed Ms Patel. Sir Alex Allan, however, has taken a different view and has resigned as a result of Mr Johnson’s response.

Arguably, Mr Johnson’s response can be portrayed as turning a blind eye to the issues presented in the report. If this were to happen in a normal workplace context, what consequences could you be facing as an employer?

In terms of the law, bullying unhelpfully does not have a legal definition and a bullying claim cannot be brought unless it is linked to discrimination, breach of contract or personal injury. The Equality Act 2010 defines harassment as conduct that is unwanted and has the purpose or effect of violating a victim’s dignity or creating an environment that is intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating. A harassment claim, however, would only apply if it is linked to a protected characteristic e.g. age, race, disability, sex etc.

A failure to address issues could result in an employee resigning and claiming constructive dismissal if they have worked for you for two or more years.

To avoid being in a situation like this, what should you be doing?

  • Ensure you have an effective anti-bullying and harassment policy in place and provide the necessary training to managers.
  • If you have someone who is senior and is bullying other staff, then this behaviour should not be ignored just because they are an integral part of your business.
  • Any allegations made should be investigated and dealt with appropriately including giving clear warnings and explaining consequences if behaviour is not improved.

If you are looking for guidance on how to deal with issues of bullying, we’re here to help – get in touch.

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