Bullying is a recognised workplace problem. According to the National Bullying Helpline, one in four employees have experienced bullying at work. If you are being bullied, it can have a devastating effect on your life and it is often difficult to know what to do about it.
What rights do I have?
Your employer can be liable for bullying carried out by its employees at work. This can include bullying that takes place at work social gatherings and Christmas parties. If your colleagues are bullying you, or if your employer fails to treat seriously or deal adequately with your complaint of bullying, then you may be able to resign and claim constructive dismissal.
Harassment is “unwanted conduct that violates people's dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment."
Harassment because of any of the following protected characteristics : (race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religion or belief or age) is discriminatory and unlawful.
If you are being harassed or bullied because you associate with someone who has a protected characteristic, this is unlawful. Also, if you are harassed or bullied because your bully thinks that you possess a protected characteristic (when in fact, you don’t) this is also unlawful.
Third party harassment
The law was extended in October 2010 to protect third party harassment on all of the protected characteristics apart from pregnancy/maternity and marital/civil partnership statusabove. This means that employers are now potentially liable for harassment of their staff by people they don’t employ, for instance customers, clients, visitors etc.
However, there is an employer’s defence. Employers are only liable if the harassment has happened on at least two occasions before, they are aware that it has taken place and they have not taken reasonable steps to prevent it from happening again.
Victimisation involves treating a person less favourably because they have complained (or intend to complain) about harassment, or because they have given evidence in relation to another person's complaint. An employee must not be disciplined or dismissed, or suffer reprisals from colleagues, for complaining about discrimination or harassment at work.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997
If the bullying is particularly serious, it may amount to harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act. You may be able to obtain an order from a Court to make the conduct stop and compensation for financial loss and anxiety.
Health and Safety
You have the right to work in safe conditions. Under Health and Safety legislation, employers are required to conduct risk assessments in respect of workplace hazards including stress. Bullying is known to be a major contributor to work related stress.
If you make a complaint about bullying in good faith in the correct way, under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, and you are penalised by your employer as a result, you may be able to make a whistleblowing claim.
How do I make a claim?
Some of the rights set out above are dependent on your employment status and length of service. You may also need to raise a grievance before you can bring a claim. If you are thinking of resigning, you should take legal advice first.
Remember, there are very strict time limits for making claims in the tribunal and these can be as short as 3 months, so you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.
If you have been suffering bullying and harassment at work and would like to speak to one of our specialist solicitors for further advice, either please contact Judith Curran by email or telephone 01689 887812.