According to a 2015 report by ACAS, workplace bullying is on the rise, with about 20,000 calls relating to bullying each year being made to the organisation
Employers should be aware of what bullying is to be able to recognise it. The most helpful, concise and easiestto- understand definition comes from ACAS – bullying is ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’.
The impact that workplace bullying can have on a business should not be ignored or underestimated. It will have a negative impact on morale and will result in a lower level of performance and productivity.
Bullied employees who feel unsupported by their employer can resign and bring an Employment Tribunal claim for constructive dismissal. If the employee succeeds, their employer, who will already have faced the time, cost and inconvenience of defending the claim, may be ordered to pay the employee compensation up to the value of the employee’s annual gross salary (to a maximum of £78,335).
The employee may also bring an Employment Tribunal claim for discrimination, irrespective of whether or not they have resigned, if they believe that the reason they were subjected to bullying was because of their gender, disability, sexual orientation, age, race or religion. If the Employment Tribunal finds that the bullying was discriminatory, it can order the employer to pay the employee compensation for the injury to their feelings of up to £33,000.
Addressing bullying in the workplace is no easy task. Having a wellpublicised grievance procedure or dignity at work policy in place certainly helps as it means that employees will know what to do if they think they are being bullied which, in most instances, is to bring it to the attention of their managers.
Good practice, and certainly what ACAS advocates, is that the allegations of bullying are investigated thoroughly and impartially to establish what has gone on. The investigation should include interviewing the employee who has raised the allegations, the alleged perpetrator and any possible witnesses to the alleged events, which would normally be colleagues. Having done so, the employer should report back to the employee on their findings and what they believed happened.
Most importantly, the employer should establish with the employee what can done in the future to ensure that the employee is supported and comfortable at work. Of course, if someone is found to have bullied a colleague, you should consider disciplinary action and retraining.
Lee Ashwood is an employment law solicitor at law firm Eversheds LLP.
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