At some point we may all experience or witnessed workplace bullying or harassment but sometimes it can be difficult to define exactly what it is. A report by the TUC cast a very interesting light on this subject which is a lot more common than many of us might assume. Some of the facts from the report will make for difficult reading such as:
- Bullying in the workplace impacted 29% of people surveyed.
- Women (34%) are at greater risk of bullying than men (23%).
- The most common age group experiencing bullying is between 40 and 59 years of age.
- A staggering 72% of bullying is carried out by workplace management.
- Of those who suffer bullying at work, 36% leave their job as a consequence.
In many ways bullying and harassment in the workplace are the unspoken/unseen ways of life in the employment market but this should not be the case. Of those surveyed:
- 46% suggest that bullying in the workplace had an impact on their performance.
- 46% believe it impacts their mental health.
- 28% feel a physical impact.
- 22% are forced to take time off work.
When you sit back and consider the impact of workplace bullying and harassment, you would not take that in your private life so why should you take it in your working life? The physical and mental scars of workplace bullying and harassment can last for many years and this is a matter which is taken extremely serious by the courts.
Defining Workplace Bullying And Harassment
Unfortunately, bullying and harassment in the workplace (and indeed everyday life) takes many forms. There is no legal definition of the term “bullying” but if action or words spoken by a third party cause stress, mental issues or the bullying descends into a physical confrontation, this may give rise to claims for compensation for workplace bullying. There is a more defined definition of harassment which is covered under the Equality Act 2010 and takes in issues such as verbal abuse relating to race, religion or gender as well as gossip, humiliation and sexual harassment.
In simple terms, whether bullying or harassment is affecting you in the workplace, if the unwarranted negative actions of a third party harm you either physically or mentally, these are issues which need to be addressed.
Bullying In the Workplace
It is important to identify all potential issues of bullying in the workplace so that they can be addressed by the management or action taken. The Health and Safety Executive defines bullying as something which occurs “repeatedly and persistently over time” although it is worth noting that this still leaves scope to take legal action against isolated incidents of harassment or bullying. In simple terms, common sense should prevail where bullying and intimidation in the workplace occur although very often it is easier to identify someone else being bullied or intimidated than when in receipt of it ourselves.
Specific Examples Of Bullying In The Workplace
It is unfortunate that many people consider what are in basic terms bullying and harassment as “part of everyday employment life”. There will be instances where the conduct of a colleague/manager is effectively bullying but because it has become so commonplace it may not be regarded as so. Over the years a number of different examples of bullying in the workplace have emerged including:
- Direct threats, comments and rumours about job security/job performance.
- Being deliberately overlooked for promotion, financial awards or alternative working opportunities.
- Regularly assigned pointless and unpleasant tasks.
- Lack of credit for good work.
- Credit or commissions reduced or removed for no apparent reason.
- Constant and unconstructive criticism.
- Overzealous micromanagement and supervision.
- Being “set up to fail”.
- The withholding of important information relevant to an individual.
- Being deliberately ignored or excluded from formal work events, meetings and communications.
- Use of humiliating language in front of colleagues/in public.
When you see a list of definitions of bullying it is very easy to see how commonplace it is in the modern day workplace. While some employees may adopt the strategy of the “stiff upper lip” this type of action is illegal and has no place in the modern day employment market. It is only if bullying and intimidation are reported to management, the authorities and the threat of potential legal redress that it will stop.
The Equality Act 2010 offers a very interesting insight into the legal definitions of harassment and negative actions. It is regarded as unwanted behaviour towards a “protected characteristic” often used to intimidate and humiliate an individual. Such protected characteristics include:
- Sexual orientation.
- Gender reassignment.
What may well have passed for “office banter” in years gone by might now effectively be breaking the law. We can only estimate the number of people who have suffered in years gone by due to any one or more of the above issues. It is not fair, it creates a toxic working environment and the reality today – it is illegal.
Examples Of Harassment In the Workplace
Sometimes it is difficult to list examples of harassment because they take so many different forms and actions. Over the years various trends have emerged and it is worth noting that while comments to one individual may be classed as harassment due to their age, gender, race or religion they might not be classed as harassment to another individual. However, in general harassment includes the likes of:
- Sexual jokes, advances and physical contact.
- Requesting sexual favours, displaying and sending offensive videos, photographs and messages.
- Intentionally invading a person’s personal space.
- References, jokes or humiliating comments about disabilities.
- Jokes or comments about a person’s sexual orientation or gender.
- Jokes or comments about a persons a race or religion.
- Reference to generalisations and stereotypes.
Employer’s Duty Of Care To Protect From Bullying In The Workplace
All employers have a duty of care to ensure the safety and mental well-being of their employees. This is a legally binding liability and one which if ignored can and has led to significant compensation for workplace bullying being paid. While employers are expected to take “reasonable steps” they do need to identify risks, prevent repetition of bullying and harassment and offer support to the workforce. Aside from the legal duty of care, there is also an array of acts of Parliament to support workers in the workplace.
When you consider the guidance given to employers as well as the legal obligations in place, it is difficult to understand why bullying in the workplace would appear to be so commonplace.
Preventing Bullying And Harassment In The Workplace
The first act of any employer is to create a clear and fair policy on bullying and harassment at work which must be applied to the letter and updated accordingly. This includes:
- Clear definitions and examples of “unacceptable behaviour”.
- Statement covering workers and management responsibilities in relation to bullying and negative conduct.
- Clear and concise complaints procedure.
- Protection offered to those who follow the complaints procedure.
- Internal and external points of support for victims.
- Endorsement of the bullying and harassment policy by senior management.
In reality, the creation of a company policy regarding bullying and harassment offers a strong legal foundation but there is much more to creating a harmonious workplace than paperwork. The Health and Safety Executive has pinpointed a variety of issues which should be addressed by management including:
- Recognition that harassment and bullying occurs in any company.
- Understanding what may be harmful and damaging behaviour and the consequences.
- Regular communication with staff regarding bullying and harassment regulations.
- Ensuring HR and management are trained to recognise and act on accusations of bullying or harassment.
- Training all staff to recognise unacceptable behaviour in the workplace, the impact on individuals and offering support when possible.
While employers have a legal obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees, there are a number of simple actions that employees can take to improve an often toxic workplace. These include:
- Committing to a zero tolerance policy in relation to bullying or harassment and challenging examples amongst colleagues.
- Tackling less serious examples of bullying or harassment on an informal basis while respecting the wishes of the victim.
- Offering help and support to colleagues who have been targeted and harassed.
- Being aware of internal and external assistance available to those who are affected by bullying or harassment.
- Gathering witness details when looking to make a formal grievance or claim about bullying or harassment.
- Maintain a log of incidents of bullying and harassment in the workplace – very often individual events may seem trivial, but seeing them together with a log of other incidents can often clarify a premeditated campaign of bullying or harassment.
Voice Your Concerns About Bullying At Work
The main challenge for those suffering from bullying or harassment in the workplace is finding the strength to speak out against colleagues and management. While it may not always be easy it is worth noting that these actions are illegal, they have consequences and company management should take them seriously.
There are various levels of privacy and security in place for those lodging formal grievances and any conversations with an independent personal injury solicitor are private and confidential. There is no obligation to take the matter further, or to attend future meetings, it is quite simply a means of obtaining a third party opinion on your situation.
Tackling Bullying In The Workplace
There are various routes which you can take in relation to bullying and harassment in the workplace which include:
- Informal action against aggressors.
- A formal complaint or grievance through the company.
- An employment tribunal.
- Pursuing compensation for workplace bullying.
It is worth noting that where there has been bullying or harassment in the workplace the option of pursuing compensation for workplace bullying is always open. However, many people will look to tackle these matters in a different way with a personal injury claim often seen as a last resort.
There will be genuine cases where an individual is not aware that their actions are seen as bullying or harassment by colleagues. In these instances an informal chat involving a colleague/management may be enough to resolve the issue.
Every company should have a formal complaint/grievance policy and procedure in place. There will be a set course of action once a grievance has been received and the results will be recorded in an individual’s personnel file.
There will be situations where claimants and defendants are not able to agree what actions in the workplace can be defined as bullying or harassment. Mediation can also be used where an internal grievance has been mishandled or handled improperly in the view of one or more individuals. The likes of ACAS offer a very useful mediation service which can help to avoid further serious action.
Employment tribunals tend to hear cases regarding bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Where individuals have been forced to resign from their job they may have a case for compensation under the “constructive dismissal” route. Just because an employee has left the firm does not necessarily mean that they cannot seek legal redress in the future.
Pursuing Compensation For Workplace Bullying
A compensation claim for bullying at work can be lodged immediately, whether or not the individual looks at any of the above options, although there must be clear evidence of negligence. As we mentioned above, negligence in the workplace covers so many different situations that it is impossible to list them all. However, diagnosis of the following conditions will strengthen a case:
- Psychiatric/psychological damage affecting a person’s ability to work.
- Psychiatric/psychological damage impacting a person’s private life and relationships.
- Where the mental/physical damage is difficult to treat and prolonged assistance will be required.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder whether the conditions is permanent or relatively short lived.
Lodging A Claim For Compensation For Workplace Bullying
It is imperative that all medical and non-medical supporting evidence is collated into a report which you can present to your legal representative such as a personal injury solicitor. There needs to be clear evidence of negligence by one or more third parties in order to pursue a claim for compensation for workplace bullying. Where the claimant has been bullied or harassed over a prolonged period of time, a diary of events and examples of bullying/harassment would also be very useful. Once all of the facts have been placed in front of a solicitor they will be able to consider your case in more detail and recommend whether you should pursue compensation or not.
If you do have a strong case for compensation, lodge a claim with the assistance of a solicitor and they will send a copy of all the evidence to the defendant. Where it is fairly obvious that the employer, or any other third party, has been negligent they will likely look to pursue an out-of-court settlement. Where negligence is contested, or more than one party was potentially negligent, this is more likely to go to a full-blown court case.
Types Of Compensation For Bullying At Work
There are two specific types of compensation for bullying at work. They include general damages which cover compensation for:
- Pain and suffering.
- Mental trauma.
- Life changing injuries.
There is some discretion in the level of compensation to be awarded under “general damages” which would reflect the specifics of each individual case. The second type of compensation is referred to as special damages and is reimbursement of costs as a consequence of injury and funding for any future treatment because of the bullying. They include issues such as:
- Loss of earnings.
- Future loss of earnings.
- Medical expenses.
- Future medical expenses.
- Additional transportation costs.
- Adaptions to the home.
There is no discretion with regards to special damages which are simply redressing expenses incurred and funding required assistance going forward.
If you are considering claiming compensation for workplace bullying you can speak with our legal team today with full assurance of confidentiality.