What legal options can employers or employees take to tackle workplace bullying?

Mon 14th Nov 2016

During Anti-Bullying Week Philip Sayers, Employment lawyer at Coodes Solicitors, looks at the legal options available to deal with the growing problem of workplace bullying.

Bullying is an issue that is encountered in all walks of life and the workplace is unfortunately no exception. In fact it seems to be on the rise if the 20,000 phone calls ACAS received in the last year about bullying are anything to go by.

What does the law say?

The legal position is fairly straightforward. Bullying that is motivated by discrimination on grounds of protected characteristics, for example racism, sexism and ageism, constitutes harassment and an employee on the receiving end of it could bring a Tribunal claim.

If discrimination on the grounds of protected characteristics isn’t the motivation for the bullying, an employee’s legal options are limited. The short answer is that there is no Tribunal claim that can be directly brought because someone has been bullied. Someone with over two years’ service whose employer isn’t taking action to protect them from bullying could resign and bring a constructive dismissal claim. However, if they have less than two years’ service or do not wish (or cannot afford) to resign from their job they cannot bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal asking for compensation for being bullied. If the bullying was so serious as to cause a psychiatric injury they might find recompense with a Personal Injury claim. It is possible that the bullying could result in a disability, for example severe depression, which would then itself be a protected characteristic but that kind of scenario will surely only account for a small proportion of those 20,000 calls ACAS have received.

How can workplace bullying be resolved?

The better news for employers and employees is that bullying is often something that can be quickly and informally resolved. Almost all employers want a happy workforce and most employers take allegations of bullying seriously. Often the bully does not realise they are perceived as being a bully and will wish to resolve the situation. If the nature of the bullying lends itself to an informal resolution that is usually the best approach. Sometimes saying “sorry” is all it takes for both the employer and the employee to be satisfied.

If the bullying is of a more serious nature, or if informal routes do not resolve the problem, then the employee should issue a formal grievance. The employer will need to investigate it and provide an outcome. Depending on the specific problem, a wide variety of possible solutions can be found, such as changing line management, disciplinary action being taken against the bully or agreeing a compensation package so the victim can exit the business and make a fresh start elsewhere.

For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Philip Sayers, Employment team, Coodes Solicitors on 01872 246200 or philip.sayers@coodes.co.uk

Mon 14th Nov 2016

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