Bullying at work

Everyone in our society deserves to be treated fairly and equally with a certain level of dignity and respect. Unfortunately, harassment and bullying at workplace are not uncommon in the UK. In fact, the main UK body for improvement of employment relations – Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) estimates that 1 in 10 employees experiences workplace bullying and harassment. With that in mind it is worth knowing  your rights.

Difference between workplace bullying and victimisation

Although, both of the above terms are often used interchangeably and some definitions even include bullying as a type of harassment, the two are completely different in nature and take different forms.

Harassment occurs when your dignity is affected by unwanted intimidating conduct that is aimed at you or even someone else’s age, race, disability, gender, religion, sexual orientation, national origin or some other individual characteristics. The conduct can be a one-off incident or more permanent in nature, what matters most is that it offends you.

Bullying is usually characterised by persistent unwelcome malicious or intimidating behaviour that is intended to undermine or humiliate the victim. Common instances of bullying at work include:

  • physical or verbal abuse;
  • nit-picking;
  • spreading malicious gossip;
  • being shouted at or humiliated in front of other colleagues;
  • victimisation or isolation;
  • excessive monitoring;
  • misuse of power or position;
  • unfair treatment.

Bullying or harassment need not  take place in person. Written correspondence, telephone conversations or electronic communication such as emails and fax are covered by the current anti- harassment legislation.

In real life, bullying at workplace can also be hard to recognise at first. It may be direct or it may be more insidious. Sometimes new employees may assume that an inappropriate joke or overbearing supervision is just a part of working environment at their new place of work. The psychological fear of being considered as weak may also cause bullied persons not to react. You should resist this feeling and try to discuss your concerns with your manager or supervisor.

Bullying at workplace: the law

In the UK, it is not possible to make a direct claim to an employment tribunal about bullying at workplace. Complaints can however be made under various other laws concerned with discrimination and harassment.  If you were forced to leave your job because of bullying you might also be eligible to claim unfair constructive dismissal.


  • the Sex Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of sex, marital status or gender reassignment;
  • the Race Relations Act 1976 provides protection against discrimination  and harassment on the grounds of race or national origin;
  • the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 provides protection against discrimination and victimisation on the grounds of disability;
  • the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation)  Regulations 2003 give protection against discrimination and harassment  based on sexual orientation. This includes heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual people.
  • the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 prohibit discrimination based on religion or belief;
  • the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 give protection against discrimination and harassment on the grounds of age.

Constructive Dismissal

Constructive dismissal occurs when you leave your job because of an intolerable working environment but is based on a fundamental breach of contract which is not always easy to prove. The environment might become unacceptable for various reasons including persistent bullying, discrimination or harassment. It is important that before leaving your job you at least attempt to resolve the situation by speaking to your manager, HR department or use service such as ACAS. Sometimes it might also be worth to try to talk to your bully as bullying can be unintentional.

If the above does not help and you think you have a valid case of proving unfair constructive dismissal you should leave your job and bring a claim to the employment tribunal as well as seek further legal advice in relation to bullying at workplace that might have its grounds in any form of discrimination listed above.