Bullying in the workplace, a legal perspective
Having worked with a number of clients who have experienced bullying at work, the one common thread is the belief there’s very little they can do about it without losing their job or making matters worse. When the bully behaves badly toward you publicly and it’s seen and heard by others yet not challenged, the person being bullied begins to accept the behaviour, convinced they must be the problem or they must be over reacting. This is ‘faulty’ thinking which leads to psychological and behavioural problems, creating a more stressful work environment which leads to ill health and time off work and can sometimes lead to formal action being pursued by the person being bullied or the decision to leave their job.
The CIPD Employee Outlook Survey Spring 2017, reports that as much as 45% of employees would not feel comfortable disclosing unmanageable stress or mental health problems with their employer or manager. This provides some insight to why employees may suffer in silence for a long while when enduring bullying in work. Another reason for an employee tolerating bullying behaviour may be to do with the bully being their line manager, which sadly is often the case.
It is most beneficial and most healthful for an employee to try to resolve such issues informally where possible and as early on as possible. The longer bullying behaviour continues unchallenged, the more entrenched feelings become and the greater the risk of the person being bullied becoming ill and having to take time out of work. When this happens it becomes a formal and potentially legal matter from the perspective that contractually and legally the employee has been harmed in work. All it then takes is for a sick note to state, ‘Reason for absence: work related stress,’ for the matter to escalate to formal procedures by way of HR. Employers have a duty of care under health and safety as well as employment law to safeguard their employees well-being at work.
Talking to someone in work about being bullied and the impact of it on your health can still be quite daunting. If from the outset the person being bullied seeks counselling support through their employers well-being service which should be confidential, or privately if it feels safer to do so, there is the opportunity then to receive help by talking to someone about what is happening and in so doing manage and help alleviate any symptoms of stress, depression or anxiety using appropriate counselling techniques. Having someone able to support you through what often feels like a lonely and isolating experience is hugely beneficial and can help to keep you on top of your health without needing to take a lot of time out of work through stress.
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