How to prove workplace bullying

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is behaviour or verbal comments that cause hurt to, isolate, humiliate or undermine someone in the workplace. Bullying can be by one or two people or by whole groups. It can be very obvious or can be subtle and hard to spot. It can include any kind of abuse or violence whether physical or verbal. It can occur in what people write, what they say or send on the phone, on social media and in email, not just face-to-face.

bullying7 examples of bullying:

  • Being constantly picked on;
  • Being shouted at or in some other way the target of spontaneous rage;
  • Being humiliated in front of colleagues;
  • Being blamed for problems caused by others;
  • Being set unreasonable or impossible deadlines or unmanageable amounts of work;
  • Being regularly threatened with losing your job;
  • Being unfairly overlooked for promotion or denied training opportunities;

13 solutions to workplace bullying

  1. The most important thing is to keep a detailed record of every incident as each one happens, as you will need proof if you decide to make a complaint or take other action. Here is our guidance on bullying and how to prove bullying.
  2. Get all the details down; who did and said what, dates and times, list any witnesses and what actions were taken, and how you responded. This includes all the bullying incidents and anything that happened when you took action and involved your employers. It can be time consuming doing this but it is vital. This is your evidence and the means by which you can prove your case and get listened to. You may have to prove that your employers failed to act or acted inappropriately after hearing about the problems. 
  3. Try not to overreact or act hastily. Remember bullies take pleasure in emotionally manipulating their victims so don’t give them the satisfaction.  Remain calm, stay firm and try to keep up a confident appearance.
  4. Try to stand up for yourself. If you can, confront the person who is bullying you preferably in front of other people (who will become witnesses) and tell them to stop. Of course, this can be especially difficult if the perpetrator is your boss. 
  5. Try to get witnesses to the bullying and, if you do, ask them to make a good clear record as soon after the event as possible of exactly what they witnessed, including as much information as possible. Make sure that if they’re asked to speak about it in a complaint or other situation they will be prepared to do so. 
  6. Try to evaluate the situation to see if it really is bullying and how much you’re likely to be able to change your circumstances bearing in mind the overall situation.  Think about the outcomes you would like to see. 
  7. Get emotional support from your family and friends.  Talk to them about how you are feeling and see if they can encourage you to take action. Ask your GP about counselling if you think it might be helpful.  Take sick leave if you need it.
  8. Remember every employer has a responsibility to provide a safe work environment. Get hold of your workplace bullying policy and read it thoroughly, making sure you familiarise yourself with the reporting procedure. When you decide to take action follow the procedure for reporting bullying.  Get advice from your trade union, or from the personnel department and health and safety officers at work. Check out if your employer has a policy on harassment or unacceptable behaviour. 
  9. Check your job description. If you find your job changes after confronting the bullying and you suddenly get menial tasks to do or are given an increased workload with shorter deadlines and it isn’t in your contract, then you can do something about it.
  10. Do your research and find out everything you can about bullying and the law related to it. ACAS is a really useful resource to find out more and to get free telephone help and guidance.  So is the National Bullying Helpline.
  11. If you want to pursue a legal claim against your employer, start by taking advice from your union. If you have a good case, they will take it up on your behalf. There are different types of legal action that may be possible, including a claim to an industrial tribunal, a civil claim for personal injury and sometimes even criminal action. Find out from a lawyer what’s possible and how it might be funded. 
  12. If you go ahead with a complaint state the facts clearly using your records as a chronology of what happened. Make sure it’s in writing and follow the procedures set out in the policy. 
  13. If you decide to leave your job because of the bullying, explain exactly why you are resigning and make sure you include the account of events in your resignation letter. Don’t just say you’re leaving because you have been bullied. It’s easy to ignore that. 

Jill Canvin, 4 August 2020

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