Bullying and harassment
Bullying and harassment means any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. It is not necessarily always obvious or apparent to others, and may happen in the workplace without an employer's awareness.
Bullying or harassment can be between two individuals or it may involve groups of people. It might be obvious or it might be insidious. It may be persistent or an isolated incident. It can also occur in written communications, by phone or through email, not just face-to-face.
Download the Advice leaflet - Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers [305kb]. Alternatively, you can download the Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers (Acas advisory leaflets) [Kindle Edition] through the Amazon website. Please note that there is a small charge for the Kindle edition.
Examples of bullying / harassing behaviour could include:
- spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone
- exclusion or victimisation
- unfair treatment
- deliberately undermining a competent worker by constant criticism
Harassment is unwanted conduct which is related to one of the following: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
People do not always feel able or confident enough to complain, particularly if the harasser is a manager or senior member of staff. Sometimes they will simply resign. It is therefore very important for employers to ensure that staff are aware of options available to them to deal with potential bullying or harassment, and that these remain confidential.
Questions and answers
What can I do about being bullied or harassed?
If you are being bullied or harassed, you should take any action you decide upon as quickly as possible. It is always best to try to resolve this informally in the first instance as sometimes a quick word can be all it takes. However, if this fails there are a number of options to consider:
- see someone who you feel comfortable with to discuss the problem, perhaps someone in HR or company counsellor
- talk to your trade union or staff representative
- keep a diary of all incidents, record: dates, times, witnesses etc
- keep any relevant letter, emails, notes etc.
Why should I as an employer act against bullying or harassment?
Bullying and harassment create an unhappy and unproductive workplace where you may have:
- poor morale and poor employee relations
- loss of respect for managers or supervisors
- poor performance / lost productivity
- absence / resignations
- tribunal and other court cases and payment of unlimited compensation.
Through the Acas Helpline (08457 47 47 47) you can get advice on specific problems, and explore alternatives to an Employment Tribunal claim, such as mediation or Pre-Claim Conciliation, where appropriate.
What can I do to prevent bullying or harassment taking place in my organisation?
There are a number of key considerations that should help to prevent this behaviour:
- develop and implement a formal policy: this can be kept simple, but you should consider involving staff when writing it
- set a good example: the behaviour of employers and senior managers is as important as any formal policy
- maintain fair procedures for dealing promptly with complaints from employees
- set standards of behaviour with an organisational statement about the standards of behaviour expected; this could be included in the staff handbook.
Insight: Is bullying at work getting worse?
The largest survey of workplaces in Britain - the Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS) - reported that three per cent of workplaces (with 10 or more employees) had experienced at least one grievance relating to bullying and harassment in the year prior to the 1998 survey; by 2004 this had risen to seven per cent. Visit our page Is bullying at work getting worse? for further information.
Are your bullying and harassment policies up to scratch? The Acas helpline can help you increase your understanding of employment law and best practice to reduce the occurrence of bullying at work.
Call the Acas Helpline on 08457 47 47 47 for free and impartial advice.
Did you know?
Acas run practical Training and Business Solutions to equip managers, supervisors and HR professionals with the necessary skills to deal with employment relations issues and to create more productive workplace environments.
Click to view related Acas training and course dates in your area for:
- Bullying and harrassment
- Improving skills for supervisors
- Managing absence
- Stress in the workplace
- Having difficult conversations
Equality and diversity - Acas business solutions
We can visit your organisation to help you understand what needs to be done to address a range of issues related to equality and diversity and then work with you to develop practical solutions. For example we can help you develop dignity at work or bullying and harassment policies and procedures. Find out more from our Equality and diversity: how Acas can help page.
Online customer contact form - Let us know how we can help.
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If you think you have we've provided some advice and guidance on what to do and what to look out for to Be aware of Acas imitators.