Are you a workplace bully?

A recent survey of Unison members revealed that one in three female workers aged 18-30 said they were regularly bullied, with black employees twice as likely to be on the receiving end as white colleagues.

Workplace bullies can be damaging not just to workers’ moral, but also to workplace productivity and communication. The CIPD has estimated that victims take an average of seven days’ more sick leave a year. Bullying can be highly personal yet also very complex and subtle and HR consultants often find it hard to put a stop to unacceptable behaviour. Noreen Thrani, the author of the CIPD guide, Bullying at work: beyond policies to a culture respect, has detailed the destructive effects of workplace bullying on both sides.

Although there is no specific legislation for bullying, the Equality Act 2010 covers harassment and other legislation can be invoked including a breach of contract, health and safety, human rights and personal injury. Claims can also be brought under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. For instance, a claimant in 2006 was awarded £800,000 in damages from a High Court ruling which stated that they had suffered a ‘relentless campaign of mean and spiteful behaviour by colleagues’.

A number of organisations such as Essex County Council have begun a bid to crack down on bullying, emphasising mediation as the most successful form of eradicating it. Essex has shown that employers should be open in describing what they think bullies are and that they should put all staff through an online Respect at Work course, illustrating clear policies, practices and procedures. HR consultants should also be trained in managing bullies to increase their own confidence when dealing with such individuals.

Don’t forget, bullies don’t always come in management forms and they don’t always act outright in an aggressive manner. Bullying does not have to be endemic, but can be visible, frequent and consistent enough to pose a real concern. Bullies can be people who like to gossip and spread rumours about individuals or they can be highly undermining, making individuals work below their level of competence. Removing certain areas of responsibility and freezing people out of communication loops is also unacceptable behaviour.

Employers have a duty to protect their staff from any form of discrimination. If you are experiencing any problems with managing your workplace please don’t hesitate to get in touch with HELP who can give you the right guidance.

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