Employment Law and Bullying or Harassment Laws and Issues

Bullying and harassment in the workplace have been hitting the headlines in recent weeks. It appears that this little reported problem is in fact a growing issue in UK workplaces with many employees having spoken out following allegations of bullying in the Prime Minister’s Office.

UK employment law states that every employee has the right to be treated with dignity and respect whilst they are at work; this means that they should not be victims of bullying or harassment. ACAS describes bullying as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour or words. The organisation’s definition of bullying goes further to include the abuse or misuse of positions of authority in order to undermine, humiliate or denigrate somebody. Similarly, harassment is defined as any unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of either a man or a woman in the workplace. Harassment may be related to the victim’s gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, race or a disability amongst other things.

Bullying and harassment are not in anybody’s interests in the workplace. These problems cost companies thousands of pounds in inefficiency, low morale and absenteeism each year. As well as this, employers have a legal responsibility, a duty of care, towards their employees to protect them from bullying and harassment in the workplace. This means that according to employment law, an employer must ensure that bullying behaviour is not tolerated.

In the times when this responsibility is not fulfilled, either by an employer’s refusal to acknowledge or address the problem, or in cases where it is the boss themselves who is to blame for the bullying or harassment, the employee should consider taking action.

Unfortunately, because employment law and particularly the part of the law governing bullying and harassment at work is relatively complex, it is not possible to make a complaint to the employment tribunal about bullying per se. However, if a victim believes that they were bullied on grounds of their sex, race, religion, age, disability or other such factors then they may be able to make a claim using laws governing discrimination and harassment.

If the duty of care to an employee is broken by the employer and the employee does not protect the rights of an employee then the employee has the right to resign and later make a complaint about constructive dismissal, provided that they have worked with the employer for at least 12 months.