Bullying and harassment at work

Bullying and harassment at work

A summary of what constitutes bullying and harassment, how to recognise it and what employers can do to address this.


What constitutes Bullying and Harassment?


Those making a complaint would usually define their experience as something that has happened to them that is unwelcome, unwarranted and causes a detrimental effect.


Employees that feel they are being bullied or harassed can bring a grievance which must be dealt with regardless if it falls within the standard definition or not.


Claims just based on allegations of bullying and harassment cannot normally be brought in the Employment Tribunal unless an individual complains that the harassment/ bullying has arisen because of a protected characteristic e.g. their sex or if it forms part of a constructive dismissal claim.


Claims may, however, be brought in a court for example for personal injuries or under the Protection from Harassment Act.


How to recognise bullying and harassment?


There is not a strict, exhaustive definition of bullying and harassment but the following definitions are available:


  • Bullying: offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. (Equality Act 2010)
  • Harassment: unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual. (Equality Act 2010)


Employers must be demonstrating what is unacceptable behaviour


All employers must make a conscious effort to demonstrate to employees what they constitute to be unacceptable behaviour that will not be tolerated in the workplace and in what circumstances this will lead to disciplinary action. This may include:


  • Libellous or Slanderous behaviour by spreading malicious rumours or insulting someone by word or other written form (e.g. emails)
  • Spreading confidential personal information about an individual
  • Exclusion or Victimisation
  • Treating someone unfairly
  • Abuse of Power
  • Threatening an individual’s job security without foundation
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism or preventing their progress by denying promotion or training.


A well-structured policy on Bullying and Harassment is important making it clear individuals will not face retribution for raising concerns in good faith.


Taking action


Bullying and Harassment can create serious working environment problems for an organisation, including:


  • Poor staff morale and employee relations
  • Loss of respect for management
  • Increasingly poor performance and productivity
  • Absence
  • Resignations
  • Damaging company reputation
  • And finally, tribunal and other court cases and potentially the payment of uncapped compensation


Every employer must promote an environment where employees feel safe, healthy and that they have fair opportunities to advance.


As previously stated employers should consider a workplace policy on Bullying and Harassment as a preventative measure and it can be positive to involve staff in its development.


If complaints do result then employees’ grievances must be dealt with appropriately and in accordance with internal policies.


Support and assistance


Support is available from Brachers and Kent HR in drafting effective Bullying and Harassment policies and in connection with grievance processes.

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