What is the difference between Bullying and Harassment?
Harassment is a term that is often used together with ‘bullying’ but it
is slightly different. The Equality Act defines harassment as unwanted
conduct related to a ‘protected characteristic’ (ie race, sex, maternity
or pregnancy, disability, religious belief, age, sexual orientation,
gender reassignment, or marital status) which has the purpose or effect
of ‘violating the dignity’ of an individual, or creates an
‘intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’
for the individual. Harassment is often thought to be more obvious than
bullying and may have a physical element. But there is clearly a fine
line between the two, and a large overlap.
Am I being bullied?
If you are feeling distressed by relationships at work, you may be
experiencing bullying. You may feel isolated or excluded, or generally
uncomfortable. You may even feel scared to go to work. Bullying can have
serious effects on mental health.
Here are some examples of bullying behaviour at work:
Being subject to persistent trivial criticism, offensive personal
comments, or other aggressive behaviour
Being set up to fail by being given unachievable targets or deadlines
Being undermined in your position or subject to unreasonable demands
Being humiliated or ridiculed in front of others - eg reprimanded or
criticised either in person or by email with others copied in
Being subject to jokes that focus on a personal characteristic
Being singled out and treated more detrimentally that others (perhaps
through disciplinary action for things that everyone else does without
Being ignored or left out of social events - or even more formal
This list is not exhaustive and can include any sort of ‘unreasonable’
behaviour that cannot be justified by objective standards. Bullying is
not being subject to organisational procedures related to poor
performance or misconduct where there is a genuine cause for concern,
but it could be bullying if it is done in a way that is humiliating or
you are being singled out unfairly.
If the reason you are being bullied is because of a ‘protected
characteristic’ (see above) then it is also illegal discrimination under
the Equality Act 2010. (see below)
What can I do to stop the bullying?
Bullying is often difficult to prove - it may happen behind closed
doors, with no 3rd party evidence. The first step could be to approach
the bully and try to resolve the Bullying can also be very subtle (often
called ‘gaslighting’) characterised by manipulative behaviour that is
hard to pin down, but has the effect of undermining the person
concerned. situation informally. They may not even be aware of their
behaviour, or how they are making you feel. Bullies do not like being
called to account - it may be enough to get them to back down, but there
is, of course, a risk it may make things worse.
If you do not feel able to approach the bully personally, you may choose
to have an informal discussion with their line manager or approach the
human resources manager for a confidential discussion. A Trade Union rep
may also be able to advise and support you - especially if you decide to
follow a formal procedure - see below.
Use a formal procedure to make a complaint
Does your employer have a bullying policy? Equality policy, or Dignity
at work policy? If it does, they may contain specific procedures to
raise concerns about bullying, and these will be a good place to look.
If not, every employer should have a ‘grievance procedure’ which tells
you how to raise a complaint about a work-related issue. This will
normally have an ‘informal’ stage to it, but if you have already tried
and failed with an informal resolution, you should be able to go
straight to the formal stage. However, bullying is a notoriously
difficult issue for employers to deal with - especially where it
involves line management. The employer is often reluctant to find
against the manager unless there is irrefutable evidence. However, this
does not mean it is not worth doing - the employer should carry out an
investigation which will be uncomfortable for the bully and is a way of
calling them to account. Even if there is no formal finding in your
favour, the issues will be ‘on record’ and there may be informal
repercussions for the bully.