Bullying is still rife in the workplace, but what are your rights?

Stressed businesswoman
As part of our focus on Anti-Bullying Week, our resident lawyer Henry Doswell explains your rights and the laws protecting you against bullying in the workplace.

In the UK it has been reported that over 60% of employees have witnessed or been a victim of bullying behaviour in the workplace. Of those bullied, 43% said they felt intimidated, with around 25% saying they had been shouted at. A shocking 20% had reported having items thrown at them! It’s clear from these statistics that workplace bullying is still a major issue in the UK. It can be very distressing for the victim and those who witness it and is well known to be a significant cause of work-related stress and sickness absence.

So what are your legal rights and what protection are you given under employment law if you find yourself being bullied by your manager or a colleague? Whilst being a victim of bullying or harassment can be very distressing, it does not give you an automatic right to bring a claim against your employer.

Bullying can be defined quite widely to include any behaviour that is intimidating, insulting or malicious or any conduct that is intended to degrade or humiliate a person. If you are subjected to this type of behaviour or conduct, you may be able to resign and claim unfair constructive dismissal on the grounds that your employer has fundamentally breached your trust and confidence.

Harassment, on the other hand, is more closely defined under the law. Under equality legislation, which has now been consolidated in the Equality Act 2010, you would only be protected from harassment if you can establish that it was because of a ‘protected characteristic’ such as sex, race, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief. A claim for sexual harassment would require you to prove that there was unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, which had the effect of violating your dignity and/or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment. For example, your colleague makes sexually explicit comments to you or you witness him or her making these comments to someone else at work. All these types of claims would need to be brought as discrimination claims in the employment tribunal.

Before bringing a constructive dismissal or discrimination claim, you would have to raise a formal complaint or grievance in writing in accordance with your employer’s grievance procedure. This is necessary to comply with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures and to avoid any compensation awarded by the employment tribunal being reduced by up to 25%. Your formal grievance would also give your employer the chance to resolve matters internally, which might involve offering you the chance to mediate your dispute by using a workplace mediator. Mediation is much quicker and provides parties with the best chance of repairing a broken relationship and it can avoid the need to initiate legal proceedings.

You may also be able to bring a personal injury claim for stress at work or a claim under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 but both these claims are notoriously difficult to win and need to be brought in the County Court. Also, as these are Court claims you would be personally responsible for your employer’s legal costs if you lost the claim, which could be very expensive.

Of course, none of the above options are ideal but if you want to protect your legal rights and put a stop to the bullying behaviour, you may have no choice but to escalate matters and ultimately, if all else fails take legal action against your employer.

 For further information on bullying and harassment law or to obtain specific legal advice on any area of employment law call Henry Doswell of Doswell Law on 01233 722942 or email him at [email protected].

Doswell Law is offering readers of WeAreTheCity 10% off their total legal fees in respect of any employment law advice received before 16 December 2015. Please quote: “WeAreTheCity” when calling or emailing us. Subject to Doswell Law’s standard terms and conditions of business.


Whilst every reasonable effort is made to make the information and commentary contained in this article accurate and up to date, Henry Doswell takes no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it. The information and commentary in this article does not constitute legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. You are strongly advised to obtain specific, personal advice from a lawyer about your case or matter.

Henry DoswellAbout the author:

Henry Doswell is the owner and Principal of Doswell Law. Henry has over 13 years’ experience as an employment lawyer. Having spent his career working for specialist employment law firms in the City, West End and Canary Wharf, he has the necessary combination of legal expertise and commercial awareness to protect and promote his clients’ interests. Henry is also an accredited ADR Group workplace mediator and a member of the Employment Lawyers Association.

Doswell Law:

Doswell Law offers the individual attention of a highly experienced City lawyer who specialises exclusively in employment law. No juniors. No trainees or paralegals. Just one-on-one advice for individuals and a personal, tailor-made service for businesses.

  • For Individuals –we offer personalised advice at every stage of the employment process. We can advise on your employment contract, negotiate the terms of redundancy or dismissal and/or represent you at the employment tribunal.
  • For Businesses – our focus is on protecting you from expensive and time-consuming claims and disputes. We do this by ensuring that you have all the correct systems, procedures and documentation in place. Our low cost annual retainer scheme, which includes telephone advice on any day-to-day employment issues, is designed to give you total peace of mind.
  • Mediation Service – an independent mediation service for both individuals and businesses is available to help resolve disputes in the workplace or to avoid a claim being brought in the Employment Tribunal or Court.

We have transparent and flexible charging arrangements including a competitive hourly rate and fixed fees. For more information on how we can help you or your business please visit www.doswell-law.com

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