Although there is no legal definition of bullying, it can be described as unwanted behaviour from a person or group that is either:
- offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting
- an abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, or causes physical or emotional harm to someone
The bullying might:
- be a regular pattern of behaviour or a one-off incident
- happen face-to-face, on social media, in emails or calls
- happen at work or in other work-related situations
- not always be obvious or noticed by others
Examples of bullying at work could include:
- someone has spread a malicious rumour about you
- someone keeps putting you down in meetings
- your boss keeps giving you a heavier workload than everyone else
- someone has put humiliating, offensive or threatening comments or photos on social media
- someone at the same or more junior level as you keeps undermining your authority
Bullying can also happen from staff towards a more senior employee, a manager or an employer (this can be called 'upward bullying' or 'subordinate bullying').
It can be from one employee or group of employees.
Examples of upward bullying can include:
- showing continued disrespect
- refusing to complete tasks
- spreading rumours
- doing things to make you seem unskilled or unable to do your job properly
It can be difficult if you’re in a senior role to realise you’re experiencing bullying behaviour from your staff.
It's important to consider the real reasons for the behaviour. For example, there might be a wider issue with the culture of the organisation.
Employers and managers should work together to identify the cause of the issue and address it.
When bullying might be classed as harassment
Harassment is when bullying or unwanted behaviour is about any of the following 'protected characteristics' under discrimination law (Equality Act 2010):
- gender reassignment
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
Harassment because of pregnancy or maternity is treated differently and could be direct discrimination.
Find out more about:
What you can do
In some cases, the person might not realise the effect of their actions so you can try talking with them, if you feel you can.
It's a good idea to:
- explain how their behaviour makes you feel
- be firm, not aggressive
- stick to the facts
If you do not feel comfortable talking to the person face to face, you could:
- put this in an email
- ask for support from a trade union representative, if you have one
If you do not feel comfortable doing this or the bullying carries on, you should talk with someone at work you feel comfortable with.
This could be:
- your boss
- another manager
- someone in HR
- a counsellor, if your employer provides one
- your trade union or staff representative, if you have one
It's also a good idea to keep a diary or record of the bullying, including:
- how the bullying made you feel
- dates and times it happened
- any evidence, for example emails or screenshots of social media posts
- any witnesses
Most bullying happens out of sight of others, so you might not have any witnesses. This does not stop you reporting the bullying to your manager to get the situation resolved.
What your employer must do
Your organisation should have a policy on bullying that says how it should be handled.
Even if there's no policy, your employer has a legal duty of care to protect you while you’re at work. This includes dealing with bullying issues.
If you have to leave your job because of severe bullying that your employer did nothing about, you might be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal for constructive dismissal.