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Bullying and the Workplace – How Prevalent is it?

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In an age of remote and hybrid working, one of the most overlooked benefits of spending less time in the office is the impact that this has on bullying and harassment.

This issue is surprisingly prevalent too, with a 2020 study carried out by the TUC finding that nearly half (46%) of respondents have confirmed that bullying has had a negative impact on their productivity.

In the same survey, it was revealed that more than a quarter of respondents (28%) have seen bullying and harassment affect them physically, while more than a third (36%) have left their job as a result of this type of behaviour.

But what constitutes bullying and harassment in the workplace, and what can you do if you’re a victim of such behaviour?

What is bullying behaviour?

There’s an interesting legal distinction between bullying and harassment, with only the latter technically classed as being against the law.

These terms can also be quite vague, with broad examples of bullying or harassing behaviour including:

  • The spread of malicious and untrue rumours
  • Unfair treatment
  • Picking on an individual or frequently undermining them
  • Unfairly denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities

Of course, this type of discrimination can also occur over different channels and mediums, whether through face-to-face interactions or by letter, email, and telephone. These are all key considerations, especially when gauging the impact of the behaviour and how it’s considered from a legal perspective.

What are the penalties in law for such behaviour?

From a technical perspective, the offence of harassment carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

If the harassment is also proven to be racially or religiously aggravated (race and religion are protected characteristics under the law), a judge can pass down a sentence of 14 years.

However, harassment case often involves stalking and the process of putting people in fear of violence, with workplace cases typically involving less overt examples of behaviour where the immediate threat of violence is minimal.

So, any such cases that end up in a court of law will likely end in a much shorter sentence, while many instances of workplace harassment are argued and settled initially in tribunals.

What to do if you’re a victim of harassment?

If you find yourself the victim of harassment or bullying in the workplace, your first port of call should be to resolve this informally. However, this may involve talking direct to the perpetrator, and if you’re uncomfortable with this, you should seek out counsel from either your manager or HR department (or trade union rep where applicable).

If this doesn’t work or the response of your employer is inadequate, you may want to seek out legal advice from a qualified solicitor or independent body such as Acas.

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) works to resolve workplace conflicts and support victims of harassment and can provide actionable advice to help you through difficult times.

Following this process and logging your interactions is also crucial from a legal perspective, as you’ll want to detail your case and showcase the efforts you made to resolve the conflict.

Robert Haynes did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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