Although there is no standalone claim for bullying in the workplace, bullying could give rise to other employment law claims, depending on the circumstances.
What Constitutes Bullying?
Although there is no legal definition of bullying, most of us recognise treatment or behaviour that will constitute bullying. It tends to be offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour involving the misuse of power that can make you feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened. Power does not always mean being in a position of authority; bullying can also be from someone towards a more senior employee or manager. Bullying may include overbearing levels of supervision or inappropriate comments about your performance. Legitimate, reasonable and constructive criticism of your performance or behaviour or reasonable instructions given to you in the course of your employment, will not amount to bullying on their own.
Is There A Discriminatory Element To The Behaviour?
The bullying might be said to amount to harassment related to a protected characteristic. The protected characteristics are defined in the Equality Act 2010 and are age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation (marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy or maternity although protected characteristics are not relevant protected characteristics for harassment purposes).
To amount to harassment, the other person’s conduct towards you must have the purpose or effect of violating your dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you. Where you claim the conduct had this effect and it related to a protected characteristic, you may have a claim for harassment.
Anything done by an employee in the course of their employment is treated as having also been done by the employer. Therefore your employer (as well as the individual responsible for the harassment) can be liable in these circumstances, whether or not the harassment is done with their knowledge or approval. There is however a defence available to your employer if it can show it took “all reasonable steps” to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory act or from doing anything of that description.
Has There Been A Breach Of An Express Of Implied Term Of Your Contract Of Employment?
Your employer should have a policy on bullying and how it should be handled. Your employer should follow this when dealing with any allegations of bullying. If the policy is contractual and your employer fails to comply with it, they will be in breach of contract.
Even if there is no policy, your employer has an implied duty to provide you with a suitable working environment and to offer redress of grievances. Your employer also has an implied duty of trust and confidence. This means that they should not do anything that is likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of trust and confidence between them and you. For example if your employer fails to deal with your complaints reasonably or to offer you support, they may be in breach of one or more of these implied terms.
If you have to leave your job because of bullying that your employer did nothing about you may have a claim for constructive dismissal. Briefly, this is where you resign due to a fundamental breach of contract on the part of your employer and you must resign promptly in response to the breach. You are strongly advised to seek legal advice before you resign if you are thinking about making a claim for constructive dismissal. Please see https://lincslaw.co.uk/blog/constructive-dismissal/ for more information.
Lincs Law Employment Solicitors Can Help You
If you are an employee or employer seeking specific advice on bullying at work please contact us for a free enquiry on 01522 440512 or via the web chat or contact form on our website at www.lincslaw.co.uk.
Specialist Employment Solicitor
Lincs Law Employment Solicitors
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