How do you know if you're being bullied at work and what can you do about it?

Credit: PA
  • By ITV News Multimedia Producer Connor Parker

Although work has changed a lot for many people this year, many of the problems have stayed the same including workplace bullying.

On Friday Home Secretary Priti Patel was found to have carried out behaviour that can "can be described as bullying" towards members of her staff.

Ms Patel's behaviour is said to have included shouting and swearing which breached the ministerial code.

If your boss put you in that situation, what could you do to resolve the situation if you felt uncomfortable or threatened?

What is workplace bullying?

Christine Pratt, the founder of the National Bullying Helpline, told ITV News: "Bullying is not straightforward, it's about how someone feels versus workplace procedures and employment rights."

Bullying can happen in many ways and cover all forms of behaviour and communication.

Examples of bullying can include unfair treatment, the spreading of malicious rumours, picking on someone, knowingly giving an employee overly difficult and cumbersome work, and deliberately denying an employee a promotion or training.

The Prime Minister judged Ms Patel had not breached the guidelines despite a report saying she had bullied those under her. Credit: PA

Any of these behaviours can happen over email, phone or message, they do not have to be in person.

Ms Pratt also noted bullies often had been promoted above their station, were in stressful situations and needed support themselves.

She added the bully often does not know they are doing something hurtful and many difficult situations can be resolved through an informal conversation.

Every instance of bullying is different, but if you feel like you are a victim of bullying and are afraid of a person in your workplace then there are legal processes you can go through to resolve the issue.

What is the law?

Bullying itself is not illegal but harassment is.

Harassment is when an unwelcome behaviour targets a persons identity, the government defines harassment as abuse relation to either of the following categories:

  • age

  • sex

  • disability

  • gender reassignment

  • marriage and civil partnership

  • pregnancy and maternity

  • race

  • religion or belief

  • sexual orientation

If you believe you have been bullied or harassed you do have legal rights in the workplace to protect yourself and seek to resolve the situation.

How can the situation be resolved?

There are several stages involved in seeking to resolve a bullying issue and employees should go through all of them in order, as they get increasingly more serious.

Employees should seek to resolve the issue with the person in question informally first, but this isn't a requirement.

The affect bullying can have on a persons mental health are serious. Credit: PA

If the employee feels threatened by the person they are being bullied by then they can go straight to their manager, HR department or trade union representative.

They should seek to resolve the dispute internally through their own management guidelines.

If this does not work then the employee can make a formal complaint through their employer's grievance procedures.

Ms Pratt said: "Someone who believes they are being bullied has a right to raise formal concerns and the investigator should be levelled headed and be experienced in the fields of employment law and corporate risk."

Ms Pratt said after an internal investigation was often the best time for changes to be made as all the facts would be in the open.

If again this does not work, the final port of call is to take legal action through an employment tribunal.

This course of action will require legal expertise but there are several support organisations that often offer advice for free.

Employers can be reprimanded by the government if they are found to have not done enough to prevent bullying and harassment suffered by their employees.

Bullying can happen over messages as well as in person. Credit: PA

All employers are legally bound to have a 'duty of care' for their employees and protection against bullying falls under this rule.

The Trade Union Congress recommends people follow this advice but add people should keep a diary of bullying to provide evidence at any future enquiries.

They also suggest you bring a trade union representative with you to any formal meeting about the issue.

Ms Pratt said the law applies to all workers from the top of government to supermarket workers.

How can workplaces prevent bullying?

Rachel Suff a senior policy adviser at CIPD, a trade body for human resource workers, said all employers should have robust and well-communicated workplace policies around bullying emphasising "zero tolerance for unfair treatment."

She said employers should seek to build an inclusive workplace culture based on strong values of dignity and respect.

Ms Suff added: "Every individual has the right to be treated with dignity and respect at work, and so organisations should treat any form of bullying seriously."Leaders need to lead by example and role model respectful behaviour, and managers should be confident to challenge any hint of inappropriate conduct and nip it in the bud.

"They should nurture an environment where people feel safe to speak up, knowing that their concerns will be taken seriously.

What about cyberbullying?

Most people are spending much more time working from home nowadays due to the pandemic, but this does not mean workplace bullying has gone away.

While the physical presence and intimidating body language of a bully may have been removed from the situation, so too have colleagues that may have been able to help.

Cyberbullying can be resolved in the same way conventional bullying is. Credit: PA

Offensive emails or messages through chatting software are still forms of bullying, as are spreading rumours.

As many messaging conversations are private and unmonitored, it is hard for employers to be aware someone is being bullied, but there is the added benefit of the person being able to keep a record of what was said.

The record of messages is vital, just because you are not in your office does not mean an employers duty of care has gone away.

If you feel you are being threatened by cyberbullying within the workplace then the procedures for getting the issue resolved are the same and should be explored to the fullest.

  • If anyone believes they are being bullied at work and wish to get some advice they can reach out to the National Bullying Hotline on 03003230169.