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Bullying at work can have a serious impact on an employee’s life. In many cases it can be sorted out with a quiet word. In some cases, however, it may be necessary to take legal action. Miller Samuel Hill Brown can help.

Bullying and harassment at work

There are a number of employment laws in the UK which provide for employee protection against bullying or harassment in the workplace.

Bullying

ACAS define bullying as: “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”.

A person is being bullied if, for instance, they are:

  • Constantly picked on
  • Humiliated in front of colleagues/customers/clients
  • Treated unfairly – e.g. are passed over for promotion
  • Made to take the blame for the mistakes of others
  • Given an unfair workload
  • Threatened with violence/losing their job

Employees have the right not to be the victim of such treatment at work or in a work-related setting (e.g. a training course or a work-related social occasion). 

Harassment

Harassment has a legal definition. In employment law terms, harassment can only occur where any unwanted conduct takes place because of a protected characteristic, as defined by the Equality Act 2010.

These are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender identity and gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

The Equality Act defines harassment as: ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating and intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’.

Importantly, an employee can be subjected to harassment even where they do not have the particular protected characteristic personally. An employee would be entitled to bring a claim because of their association with someone who has the protected characteristic or because they are perceived to have a particular characteristic.

Workplace bullying is serious and can cause extreme suffering. Dealing with bullying or harassment at work can be a daunting prospect, for both employees and employers.

Employee rights

There are a number of pieces of legislation which provide employees with rights (and employers with obligations) to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace.

These include:

  • Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (and related legislation);
  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997; and
  • Equality Act 2010.

Employers need to be aware of these duties to ensure that they are not on the wrong side of a claim, whether this takes the form of a discrimination or constructive dismissal claim before the Employment Tribunal or a more costly personal injury (including stress at work) claim before the courts.

Contact Miller Samuel Hill Brown for advice on dealing with victimisation, bullying or harassment in the workplace.

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