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Employment

Bullying at work: Here’s what to do

This anti-bullying awareness week has seen a rather high profile case hit the headlines. Here’s what you need to know about workplace bullying

Bullying at work is, unfortunately, commonplace, but you have a legal right to work in an environment in which you are safe and protected from harassment. 

Almost one in four people said they had been bullied at work in a survey conducted by SME Loans, rising to one in three 18 to 24 year olds.

And it seems like not even the most prestigious of workplaces have managed to stamp out bullying behaviour. 

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Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab is facing two formal investigations into allegations of bullying at work while leading the Foreign Office and, in an ironic twist, the Ministry of Justice.

Raab has been accused of “belittling” civil servants and creating a “created culture of fear”, according to Civil Service World. He has been described as being “abrasive and controlling” towards staff by former head of the Foreign Office, Lord McDonald, who said they were “scared” to go into Raab’s office.

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He has repeatedly denied the accusations but,  when standing in for Rishi Sunak at prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons, Raab admitted that he has once settled a dispute with a confidentiality clause. The investigations raise the prospect that the deputy PM will be sacked if he is found to have broken the ministerial code, which says “harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behaviour” will not be tolerated.

“It is anti-bullying week, but instead of holding the bullies to account this Prime Minister is cowering behind them,” said Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner. “Rishi Sunak clearly knew about Dominic Raab’s reputation when he reappointed him to his Cabinet.

“The Prime Minister’s promised appointment of an ethics watchdog is now long overdue leaving his pledge to bring integrity to his Government lying in tatters.Just weeks after he was installed as Prime Minister there is already an overflowing in-tray of fresh accusations of ministerial misconduct.”

It can be difficult to identify bullying at work, and even more difficult to call it out when the perpetrator is in a position of power. We asked the experts what you can do if you’re being singled out for unfair treatment at work.

What counts are bullying at work?

While there have been individual instances where many of us have felt that we were treated unfairly at work, bullying is generally understood to be behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended.

Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) defines bullying as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”.

Therefore, while being about types of actions, bullying is also about the impact it has on the recipient. Being verbally abused, asked overly personal questions, made to feel uncomfortable by inappropriate language or images, rude physical gestures, inappropriate jokes and offensive comments are all forms of bullying. 

It can take place in person, via video calls, phone, or even in emails, with cyberbullying an increasing concern for anti-bullying advocates as remote working increases in popularity. 

“Examples of cyber bullying might include frequent interruptions during virtual meetings, unkind emails and repeated and excessive emails from managers. Some employees may ‘hide behind their screens’ and not uphold the usual standards expected of them,” says employment solicitor Kirsty Chirm

Here’s what to do if you’re being bullied at work

If you are feeling bullied, charity Family Lives recommends approaching a manager or someone in the human resources department to speak about what you are experiencing. 

First of all, ask if your workplace has a policy in place to deal with bullying and harassment at work. Acas recommends keeping a record of all the incidents of bullying, including when and where it happened, how the bullying made you feel, and any evidence such as witnesses or screenshots. 

You can then show this record to a manager or HR representative. Your employer has a legal duty of care to protect employees at work, including from harm and harassment.

If you are a worker (as opposed to a freelancer) and protected by the Equality Act 2010, you could take legal action against your employer for not protecting you from the behaviour. 

The Citizens Advice Bureau recommends you check whether the behaviour can be classified as harassment under discrimination law. 

“You also always need to show that the person who harassed you meant to make you feel a certain way, or that you felt that way even though it wasn’t their intention. This is called ‘purpose or effect’. If the person didn’t mean to make you feel this way, it also has to be ‘reasonable’ that you felt that way”, explains the advice organisation. 

If you are being bullied due to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, this could count as a hate crime or hate incident. Protected characteristics include age, disability, race, gender reassignment, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. 

Where to get help about bullying at work

You can contact Family Lives for support and advice on 0808 808 2222, email them at askus@familylives.org.uk or talk  online.

The National Bullying Helpline is open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. You can contact them on; freephone: 0300 323 0169, or telephone: 0845 225 5787.

Citizens Advice lets you talk with an adviser online, between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, or in England you can call 0800 144 8848 or 0800 702 2020 in Wales. 

If you are a member of a trade union, you could get in touch with your representative and ask them for advice and support when raising the issue. 

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