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Being bullied at work?

Bullying is when someone tries to intimidate another worker, often in front of colleagues, with an accumulation of many small incidents over a period of time. It is usually, though not always, done to someone in a less senior position.

As with harassment cases, the perception of whether someone is being bullied or not varies from person to person.

You are probably being bullied if you are:

  • constantly picked on and being criticised in a trivial nature
  • constantly having your contributions and achievements ignored
  • humiliated in front of colleagues
  • being singled out and treated differently from other work colleagues
  • regularly treated unfairly
  • physically or verbally abused
  • blamed for problems caused by others
  • always given too much to do, so that you regularly fail in your work duties
  • having all your work taken away and replaced with menial tasks such as filing, photocopying, minute taking or with no work at all
  • regularly threatened with being fired or losing your job
  • unfairly passed over for promotion
  • regularly denied training opportunities
  • constant attempts to undermine you and your position, status, worth, value and potential
  • finding that your work – and the credit for it – is claimed by others
  • having your responsibility increased but your authority taken away
  • having annual leave, sickness leave, and compassionate leave refused
  • having unrealistic goals set that change as you near them
  • having deadlines which are changed at short notice without you being informed until it’s too late
  • being subjected to disciplinary procedures with verbal or written warnings imposed for trivial or fabricated reasons and without proper investigation
  • being coerced or encouraged to leave the company early i.e. retirement

Bullying can take place in person, in writing, over the phone, by fax or email.

How does bullying affect your health?

The experience of being bullied can affect your health in many ways.  You could suffer with high levels of stress and anxiety which will affect your blood pressure, make you feel tired, give you headaches and migraines, have aching joints, back and limbs and be more susceptible to coughs, colds and other viral infections.

You could also suffer with sleeplessness, nightmares, skin problems, panic attacks, irritability, depression and very low self-confidence.

No one should be made to feel this way, least of all at work, so please do something about it.

Get advice

Speak to someone about how you might deal with the problem informally. This could be:

  • an employee representative like a trade union official
  • someone in the human resources (HR) department
  • your manager/supervisor or another line manager if the bully is your own direct manager

Talk to the bully

The bullying may not be deliberate. If you can, talk to the person in question, who may not realise how their behaviour has been affecting you. Work out what to say beforehand. Describe what has been happening and why you object to it. Stay calm and be polite. If you don’t want to talk to them yourself, ask someone else to do so for you.

Keep a written record or diary

Write down details of every incident and keep copies of any relevant documents.

Making a formal complaint

Making a formal complaint is the next step if you can’t solve the problem informally. To do this you must follow your employer’s grievance procedure by raising a Formal Grievance.

Taking legal action

Sometimes the problem continues even after you have followed your employer’s grievance procedure. If nothing is done to put things right, you can think about legal action, which may mean going to an Employment Tribunal. Get professional advice before taking this step.

Remember that it is not possible to go to an Employment Tribunal directly over bullying. Complaints can be made under laws covering discrimination and harassment.

If you have left your job because of bullying, you might be able to claim unfair ‘constructive’ dismissal. This can be difficult to prove, so it is important to get advice from a specialist lawyer or other professional and keep a diary and keep any relevant documents.

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