What constitutes workplace bullying?

by | Apr 25, 2023 | Blog Posts

workplace bullying

We have recently seen Dominic Raab’s resignation after a report investigating bullying allegations against him was published. Following from this, Natalie Saunders, our head of Employment, looks at what constitutes appropriate workplace behaviour. And indeed, what is workplace bullying.

Bullying is not a stand-alone legal claim, and it has no specific legal definition. However, it can give rise to a number of different claims:

– The bullying, or the employer’s handling of the situation, may involve a breach of an express or implied term of the contract of employment. Employees often cite the implied duty to provide a suitable working environment and to offer redress of grievances. Also, breaches of the implied term of trust and confidence.

– Serious breaches of express or implied terms of the contract of employment may entitle the individual to resign, treating the contract as having been repudiated by the employer. They may then claim constructive unfair dismissal.

– If there is discrimination inherent in the treatment, bullying may amount to unlawful harassment related to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of either violating the complainant’s dignity; or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the complainant. So it is important to adopt a balanced approach. Not just looking at intent (was the behaviour carried out purposefully to harass the complainant?) but also at impact (whatever the purpose, was the effect one of violating their dignity etc?). So, “I didn’t mean it, they took it the wrong way” or “they are too sensitive” are unlikely to be viable defences.

Reputational damage from bullying claims

In addition to the time and expense for employers of defending such claims, there is the risk of reputational damage. Relationships with customers and suppliers may consequently suffer, along with income and profitability. Additionally, organisations may find that stories around bullying undermine their culture, run counter to their espoused values and make it difficult to attract or retain the talented people required to help the business succeed.

Natalie Saunders, Head of Employment adds: “Bullying behaviour is often overlooked, or worse still, condoned. If organisational culture is only as good as the worst behaviours you are prepared to tolerate, it is worth weighing up the risks of turning a blind eye – and the advantages of truly “walking the walk” when it comes to curating a cohesive, high performing culture.”

If you’d like advice in relation to constructive dismissal claims as a result of bullying or harassment in the workplace or assistance with creating an anti-bullying policy in your business, contact Natalie Saunders on 0800 988 7756. Or make an enquiry on our contact form, and we’ll call you back.

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