Bullying can have a lasting and devastating impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. By raising awareness about bullying, you as employers and communities can come together to promote kindness, empathy, and respect. Anti-bullying week encourages people to speak up against bullying and seek support, while also educating those around them about how to prevent and address bullying.

A recent study by Irwin Mitchell found that 32% of workers have experienced workplace bullying, and this was more common amongst women, with 35% saying they had experienced it.

What do we mean by bullying?

Bullying is regarded as repetitive, offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour involving misuse of power that can make a person feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened.

A person can be bullied by someone misusing their power of authority, seniority, strength, information or other power over another individual to coerce through fear or intimidation.

A common misconception that comes with the word bullying, is that it only happens in schools or between children. This couldn’t be more wrong and sometimes, bullying amongst adults can be far more damaging.

And what about harassment?

Harassment is any unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

Harassment is specifically related to one of the nine protected characteristics (race, age, sex, maternity and pregnancy, marriage and civil partnership, religion, sexual orientation, gender reassignment or disability).

Unlike bullying, a single incident can amount to harassment. But both, are equally as devastating.

Bullying or banter?

Everyone loves a bit of a laugh and a joke at work, but when does ‘banter’ become ‘bullying?

Well, this is really difficult to define as it depends on the individual experiencing them. What one person determines to be playful banter; may offend another.

A good definition of banter is a shared joke between people who have equal amounts of power. Banter could become bullying when there is an imbalance of power, or when one person is receiving more of the teasing than anyone else. It’s about repeated offensive comments or behaviours that are hurtful.

What are my obligations as an employer?

As an employer, you have a duty of care to prevent and stop any employee conduct that could be seen as bullying or harassment.

We would recommend that you take the following steps:

• Build appropriate positive behaviours into your culture via your values.

• Draft & implement a bullying & harassment policy.

• Train your employees & managers.

• Take all complaints seriously.

• Signpost employees to available help & support (EAP/Government helplines.)

What are the risks if I don’t handle bullying appropriately?

If bullying is not handled appropriately, then there is a risk that this could lead to a constructive dismissal claim. This is where the employee resigns, stating that they felt like they had no other alternative but to do so. If the employer is found ‘guilty’ at an employment tribunal, then the costs could be up to £105,707 (or 52-weeks salary, whichever is lower), and a basic award of up to £19,290. So, the cost of ignoring bullying, can be very high.

Additionally, if the behaviour amounts to harassment, then they could make a claim at an employment tribunal for discrimination, under the Equality Act 2010. The award for this is uncapped! So, the financial impact of getting things wrong can be devastating to a business. In 2021, there was news that an employee experiencing harassment relating to their disability was awarded more than £2.5 million.

How Hallidays HR can help

If you would like to discuss any of the above in more detail, then please do not hesitate to contact us on 0161 476 8276 or email hr@hallidayshr.co.uk. And of course, visit our LinkedIn page.