All sensible employers have a policy on harassment and discrimination. A policy protects both employees and the employer. The motivation is twofold: to provide an atmosphere in which employees can fulfil the duties and obligations of their contract free from harassment, discrimination, victimisation and scapegoating, and to comply with UK and
On this page
Discrimination and harassment | Bullying
Creating an anti-bullying ethos | Developing an anti-bullying policy
All employers should have a policy on discrimination and harassment; if you employ human beings, then even the best employers will have the occasional case. The difference between a good employer and a bad employer is not that good employers don't have cases of harassment etc, but that the good employers have a policy in place and will investigate and deal promptly, thoroughly and fairly with incidences of bullying and harassment according to recognised and agreed procedures.
The policy states that reprehensible behaviour is not acceptable and provides both a clear statement to all employees and a recognised and agreed course of action to be taken should any employee behave in an unacceptable manner. Existence and implementation of a policy also means that the employer is much less likely to be involved in employment tribunals and litigation, and if they are, will be in a better position to defend themselves successfully.
Bullying differs from harassment and discrimination in that the focus is rarely based on gender, race, or disability. The focus is often on competence, or rather the alleged lack of competence of the bullied person. In reality, the target of bullying is often competent and popular, and the bully is aggressively projecting their own social, interpersonal and professional inadequacy onto their target. The purpose of projection is to avoid facing up to that inadequacy and doing something about it, and - mainly - to distract and divert attention away from the bully's inadequacies, shortcomings and failings. In most cases, the bullying you see is the tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing by the bully.
Whilst bullying is the common denominator of all harassment, discrimination, abuse, conflict and violence, bullying varies from harassment in many ways; to see a table of the differences click here. I believe that bullying requires a separate chapter in any anti-harassment policy, as the causes are different, the perpetrator's motives are different, the tactics are different, there are several types of bullying, the legal aspects are different, and the solution will differ according to the type of bullying. It's essential to adopt the right solution for the type of bullying identified.
Bullying should not be confused with "tough management" or any other popular euphemisms that are employed to dismiss, diminish, rationalise or justify bullying behaviour.
Developing an anti-bullying policy is part of a wider commitment to ensuring a safe and productive work environment and a healthy workplace. Creating an anti-bullying ethos is a comprehensive and challenging objective which needs to be carefully thought through and understood before you start.
The main steps are as follows:
2. It's a good idea to start off on the right foot, so ensure that everyone is involved and can contribute to the process from the outset. This includes directors, management, personnel, staff, trade unions, health and safety reps, counselling and welfare department, workers' representatives, etc. Anyone who is against the idea of creating an anti-bullying ethos does not have the employer's interests at heart.
4. Keep statistics on staff turnover, both absolute (the actual number of staff who leave each year), relative (expressed as a percentage of total staff employed), departmental (ditto on a department basis), and manager-based (ditto on a person basis). This will indicate trouble spots and along with the results of the staff attitude survey will give you hard data with which to measure improvement as your policy takes effect. This information will help convince sceptics, doubters, auditors, shareholders, taxpayers, donors, etc. This data can also be converted into cost.
5. Bullying is a form of violence; it is aggression expressed psychologically and emotionally rather than physically. Just because there's no physical injury (except the symptoms of stress - see health and PTSD pages), don't make the mistake of thinking it's not harmful. It is - bullying is often more devastating than a physical injury; the suffering is often compounded by denial and unenlightenedness. Dealing with violence - physical and psychological - in the workplace is the responsibility of the employer, not the individual manager.
6. Understand bullying. There are many misperceptions about bullying ("it's tough management", "you've got to bully people to get the job done", etc) and you need to overcome these before you start. Also, you cannot write an effective policy before you know what you are dealing with.
7. Once you know what you are dealing with, you are ready, as an employer, to make a commitment to all employees about what is acceptable behaviour and what is not acceptable behaviour in the workplace. This commitment must come from the top.
8. Everyone has a view of bullying but everybody's view will differ slightly.
10. Resist the temptation to put your existing anti-harassment policy on your
11. A wider approach is likely to be more effective, especially in the long-term. Instead of having one policy on harassment, I suggest having an overall policy called, say, Dignity at Work, which contains an introduction stating the reasons for having this policy etc, then separate chapters on harassment, discrimination, assault and violence, bullying, treatment of minorities, etc in line with your chosen ethos and emphasis.
12. Make sure you understand the different types of bullying (to see them, click here). The way in which you deal with each will vary. For example, mediation is useful with unwitting bullying and organisational bullying, but it's wholly inappropriate for dealing with a serial bully.
14. Know how to investigate a case of bullying. it's a specialised job and an investigation is more than just asking questions and taking statements. The serial bully is adept at creating conflict between those who would otherwise pool negative information about them whilst indulging their gratification of seeing others (employer and employee) destroy each other. The serial bully is also adept at distorting people's perceptions. In the unlikely event of the serial bully being identified and held to account, the bully may leave, resulting in the employer defending litigation (for the bully's behaviour) which may last years.
15. If you have a serial bully on the staff, then the bullying you see will be only the tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing by that person.
16. Resist the temptation to take an existing unresolved case and make this person a guinea pig early on before the ink on the policy is dry. If the policy doesn't work, the person may feel further victimised (and more litigious).
17. Make sure your
18. The cost of bullying rarely appears in the accounts. Discover how much bullying is costing you in terms of staff time wasted, staff turnover, sickness absence, poor productivity, low morale, poor customer service, etc. If you have a serial bully in your midst, your employees will spend more and more time covering their backs and less and less time doing real work; under these circumstances, people develop excellent acting skills.
19. On the topic of overcoming reluctance higher up, find out how much litigation the employer will face if you don't take action now. Bullied employees are increasingly asserting their right not to be bullied; if you have an unrecognised serial bully on the payroll, you - the employer - will be paying a heavy price for the bully's behaviour. The serial bully gains gratification (a perverse sense of satisfaction) from the mayhem they are creating whilst causing the employer to incur vicarious liability. Remember that the serial bully is not on the side of the employer - the bully is entirely concerned with his or her own interests and survival. The serial bully merely uses and hides behind the employer. Do not underestimate the deceptive capabilities of the serial bully.
20. Ensure that you know how to investigate a case of bullying. Unlike harassment, assault etc, there will be little physical evidence. Use an independent investigator who is experienced in dealing with bullying cases.
21. Make available a member of staff to whom anyone who feels they are being bullied can go and talk to. This person must be trained in bullying, harassment, and counselling, and meetings must be guaranteed confidential. The presence of this person will deter genuinely poor performers who are claiming to be bullied from using bullying as an excuse. It might be appropriate to make it mandatory in your policy for targets to meet this independent person before any action can be taken.
An anti-bullying policy applies to everyone, from chief executive to cleaner, from permanent full-time staff to contractors. It must state clearly that bullying is a disciplinary offence, which links the behaviour into existing disciplinary procedures. To be effective, the policy must state that confidentiality is guaranteed.
Existing grievance procedures are not suited to dealing with bullying, as most bullying is committed either by the target's line manager, or by a co-worker often with the line manager's active (encouragement) or passive (refusing to take action) support. Therefore, anyone resorting to informal or formal procedures must be able to have the services of individuals not connected with the alleged bully. It is a breach of natural justice for the alleged bully to be in any way involved with investigation and judgement.
Most policy recommendations suggest a two-tier procedure: an informal stage and then, if the informal stage is not sufficient or the offence is of a serious nature, a formal stage.
The person who believes they are being bullied needs to be able to discuss their situation with somebody who is empathic and trained in these issues. If genuine, the target will gain strength to continue their course of action; if frivolous, the individual and their circumstances can be assessed and advised accordingly.
At this stage it's essential to identify the type of bullying that has been reported.
Unwitting and organisational bullying can often be defused at this stage without the need to escalate matters to the formal stage. With unwitting bullying (which can be all of us at times), a quiet word or a letter from the target (constructed with assistance) will often be sufficient. The unwitting bully may need assistance, especially if their behaviour has deteriorated due to excessive workload or a change in their job or inadequate training or lack of support.
With a serial bully, the informal procedure may require that the alleged bully is made aware of their behaviour, as well as the harmful effect on their target in terms of health and ability to perform their duties, its inappropriateness, and that it is contrary to policy. The bully will have to be reminded that bullying is a disciplinary offence and repeated incidents may render them liable to a formal procedure which might result in disciplinary action.
Whether you make and keep any written records at this stage is a decision for you; I suggest that a note is kept on file which includes a statement that it should only be taken into account if a formal or further informal procedures are initiated. A single informal procedure need not be held against the individual, especially with unwitting bullying.
To counter the target's request that they don't want any action to be taken against the bully at this stage and they don't want the bullying to be investigated, the policy should have a clear statement along the lines that "the employer has a legal obligation called a Duty of Care to provide both a safe place and a safe system of work; any bullying that is reported must be investigated, first informally, and later, if appropriate, formally, in order to comply with this duty of care. This duty of care cannot be derogated." Derogated means avoided or abdicated or passed to someone else for any reason.
The policy must also have a clause stating that victimisation as a result of reporting bullying and harassment will be regarded as a serious breach of discipline and will automatically result in a formal investigation which, if proven, may result in disciplinary action being taken against the perpetrator, which may include dismissal.
The policy also needs a clause stating that "the making of false or malicious complaints of bullying and harassment will be regarded as a serious disciplinary offence". It is common practice for serial bullies to make specious allegations of bullying and harassment the moment they are held accountable for their behaviour - despite the fact that the bully has made no mention of these prior to being held accountable.
At the informal stage, should you, the employer, bring the two sides (alleged bully and target) together? It depends on the circumstances and you should be guided by the needs of the target and the results of your own informal investigation. With unwitting bullying, bringing the two sides together may be appropriate, especially if mediation is used. With a serial bully, the default should be that there is no contact unless the target requests it. Many targets of serial bullies are so traumatised by the time they report the bullying that being coerced into close proximity with the serial bully causes further trauma. This makes sense when you realise that bullying is a form of psychological rape because of its intrusive and violational nature. These days, we would not expect a target of rape to have to sit in the same room at the same table as her attacker.
If the bullying cannot be resolved by an informal procedure, the target - or the employer if they feel it is appropriate under their duty of care - can initiate a formal procedure. The formal procedure must state clearly in writing what the procedure involves and what the possible outcomes will be. Rights of appeal for both parties should also be made clear at this stage.
The first step is to find out the facts, so an investigation by an experienced investigator is essential. The investigator must be impartial and confidentiality must be guaranteed; with a serial bully, most employees will be too frightened to come forward of their own volition.
A good starting point is the bully's CV; serial bullies often lie about their qualifications and experience, or describe it in ambiguous terms which are misleading. For example "I undertook a degree course in xxx" or "I studied for an MBA at Xxx University" may give the impression of holding a degree or management qualification but may mean "I started the course but didn't complete it because I failed the exams". Check everything with a fine toothcomb; lying and deception can be used as the basis for a disciplinary offence.
Another profitable line of enquiry is to establish the precise circumstances under which the bully left their previous job; in many cases, their behaviour led to them being given the option of resigning or being sacked. Most bullies, given the choice, elect to resign so nothing appears on record. The previous employer, glad to be rid of the bully and fearful of legal action for giving a misleading reference, is unlikely to admit this has happened.
Representation in grievance and disciplinary meetings is a grey area with many employers claiming that the person who is the alleged target of bullying is not entitled to representation. Denial of representation is a common tactic by which bullies reveal themselves, therefore I believe that any reasonable employer will allow and encourage both parties to have a representative of their choice and without limitation present in all meetings related to the formal procedure. The Employment Rights Act gives employees the legal right to be accompanied during grievance procedures and disciplinary hearings, but only by a union rep or fellow worker; the former often are too involved with management to be impartial, and the latter are too frightened to come forward and are often threatened by the bully anyway. A reasonable employer will go beyond what the law requires and allow the target to be accompanied by a person of their own choosing.
Understanding Bullying and
1.1 This policy, the [company name]
1.2 What is bullying and harassment?
1.3 The definition of harassment is derived from the
harassment or bullying or any act, omission or conduct which causes him or her to be alarmed or distressed including but not limited to any of the following-
(a) behaviour on more than one occasion which is offensive, abusive, malicious, insulting or intimidating;
(b) unjustified criticism on more than one occasion;
(c) punishment imposed without reasonable justification, or
(d) changes in the duties or responsibilities of the employee to the employee's detriment without reasonable justification.
(d) harassment always involves some form of behaviour by which an individual or group is treated in a detrimental way on improper grounds.
1.4. The [company name] believes that whether or not an instance or situation constitutes harassment is not determined by the intentions of the doer but by the seriousness and frequency of the doer’s actions and their impact upon the victim. In some cases a single instance will constitute harassment.
1.5 Who can be bullied and or harassed?
1.6 In addition to sexual harassment, employees in the workplace may be subjected to harassment based on any of the following:-
This list is not exhaustive.
1.7 Who can bully and or harass?
1.9 Forms of bullying and harassment
1.10 Bullying and or harassment can take several forms which generally fall into three main categories. The following are some examples:-
(a) verbal forms of harassment
(b) physical forms of harassment
(c) offensive material
1.12 Some of the ways in which groups and individuals may experience harassment are as follows:-
1.13 Lesbians and
1.16 White and black people may experience racial harassment.
1.18 The effects of bullying and or harassment
1.19 Sustained bullying and or harassment can have a devastating effect on the lives of victims. Individuals can suffer fear, anxiety and stress, which can cause or exacerbate physical illness, reduce their work performance, increase absenteeism and even cause them to resign from work. The latter being a possible reason for bullying.
1.20 If unchecked, bullying and or harassment can also damage the workplace by creating tension and conflict which can lead to poor staff morale, divided teams, absenteeism, presenteeism, reduced productivity and higher staff turnover as well as a negative reputation for the company.
Dealing With Bullying and or
2.0 What to do if you feel you are being bullied and or harassed
2.1 If you believe you are being bullied and or harassed you should do the following:-
(i) Tell someone you trust about it. If you are feeling uncomfortable about a situation and are not sure if it’s bullying or harassment, still try to talk to someone about it;
(ii) keep a written record of the offending behaviour. Write down the dates, times and places when events occurred and what was said or done and how it made you feel. If anyone else witnessed any of the instances make a note of whom it was;
(iii) make it clear to the person who is bullying and or harassing you that their behaviour is unwelcome and that you want it to stop. In most cases, once the person knows that her/his behaviour is unwelcome, they will stop.
(iv) ask a friend or representative to be with you when you speak to the person;
(v) If you prefer an informal approach you can ask your line manager to tell the person who is bullying and or harassing you that their behaviour is unwelcome and that you want it to stop.
(vi) If the behaviour continues, talk to your manager or representative.
(vii) If it is your manager or supervisor who is bullying and or harassing you, speak to the Director or the
(viii) if you feel you are being bullying and or harassed and you wish it to be dealt with formally, you can make a formal complaint.
(ix) If for some reason you feel that none of the above are reasonably available to you, you can seek assistance from the following external sources:-
Equal Opportunities Commission, Overseas
Commission for Racial Equality,
Trades Union Congress, Congress
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS),
83-117 Euston Road, London, NW1, 2RB. Tel: 0171 388 5100.
2.2 Responsibilities of managers
2.4 Where a manager becomes aware that bullying and or harassment is taking place but the employee has not complained, the manager should raise it with the employee and advise the employee along the lines outlined at paragraph 2.1 above. Where a manager becomes aware of or receives a complaint about an alleged case of bullying and or harassment affecting one of their staff she/he should:
2.5 There may be cases where a manager believes that an employee is being bullied and or harassed but the employee either denies it or insists that they want no action taken about it. In such cases the manager should not pressure the employee to complain or request action.
2.6 Guidance to employees
2.7 Employees should:
3.1 [company name deplores all forms of harassment and believes that there are no circumstances under which bullying and or harassment in the workplace can ever be justified. [company name] regards bullying and or harassment as a serious disciplinary offence which can result in dismissal. Accordingly, bullying and or harassment in the workplace in any form will not be tolerated at [company name].
3.2 [company name] believes that it is preferable for complaints of bullying and or harassment to be resolved informally wherever this is possible and appropriate as this is most likely to produce speedy solutions which minimise the risk of breaching confidentiality.
3.3 Informal Procedure
3.4 In many cases of bullying and or harassment the victim simply wants the offending behaviour to stop and wishes the matter to be dealt with quickly and informally. Where an employee wishes their case to be dealt with informally they can:
(a) follow the steps outlined at paragraph 2.1 above;
(b) seek the assistance of their trade union representative or other person, or a work colleague;
(c) speak to their line manager or the
3.5 Where a case is dealt with informally no written records will be kept on the complainant’s file and no disciplinary action can be taken against the alleged perpetrator.
3.6 Formal Procedure
3.7 Allegations of bullying and or harassment will be dealt with formally where:
(a) informal attempts have not been successful, or;
(b) management considers the behaviour too serious to be dealt with informally, or;
(c) the employee wishes the matter to be dealt with formally, i.e., wishes to make a formal written complaint.
3.8 Formal complaints must be made in writing to the Director (or to the
(a) the name(s) of the bully(s) and or harasser(s);
(b) the nature of the bullying and or harassment;
(c) the dates, times and places where the bullying and or harassment took place;
(d) the name(s) of any person(s) who witnessed any of the incidents of bullying and or harassment.
(e) details of any action taken by the complainant or others to stop the bullying and or harassment;
3.9 The Director will be obliged, within five (5) working days of receipt of the complaint, to appoint a manager (apart from the complainant and person complained about) to carry out an investigation of the alleged bullying and or harassment. The investigating officer will carry out a thorough investigation as quickly as possible.
3.10 Any employee seen by the investigating officer, including the complainant and alleged bully and or harasser, will have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or friend. Upon conclusion, the investigating officer will make a report to the Director setting out:
(a) the conclusions of the investigation, including a view on whether or not bullying and or harassment has occurred;
(b) a proposed resolution, where appropriate, of the situation;
(c) a recommendation as to whether or not disciplinary action is required.
(d) if disciplinary action is recommended, the stage at which it should commence.
3.11 The Director will consider and decide whether or not to accept the investigating officer’s report and recommendations. Where disciplinary action is recommended and agreed by the Director, it will take place in accordance with [company name]’s disciplinary procedure, commencing at the Stage recommended at 3.10 (d) above.
3.12 The Director will write to the complainant within ten working days of receipt of the officer’s report stating:
(a) the conclusions, proposals and recommendations and;
(b) The action the Director intends to take in response to the complaint.
3.13 Counter Allegations
3.14 Where following a complaint of bullying and or harassment against a person that person then makes a counter allegation against the complainant, the investigating Officer will consider the counter allegation at the same time as the initial complaint.
3.15 Right of Appeal
3.16 If the complainant is not satisfied with the response of the Director, she/he will have the right to appeal to the Staffing Sub Committee. The employee must appeal in writing within 5 working days of receipt of the Director’s response, stating the precise grounds of appeal. The grounds of appeal may be as follows:-
(a) that the Director’s decision was unreasonable;
(b) that the procedure was not followed;
3.17 Where an appeal is received, a meeting of the Staffing Sub Committee should be set up within the following 20 working days. The Committee will decide whether to uphold or reject the appeal. The complainant will be allowed to have a trade union representative or friend and will be given the opportunity to present their case, including calling witnesses. The Director or her/his representative will be given the opportunity to respond, including calling witnesses.
3.18 The Staffing Sub Committee will receive only such evidence or representations which it deems relevant to the specified grounds of the appeal. The Committee will not redo the initial investigation. Where the appeal includes interviewing or receiving evidence from an employee, she/he will have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or friend. The decision of the Staffing Sub Committee will be final.
3.19 Complaints of bullying and or harassment against the Director should be made in writing to the
(a) decide whether or not bullying and or harassment occurred;
(b) make proposals, where appropriate, to resolve the matter;
(c) decide if disciplinary action is required, and, if so, the stage at which it should begin.
The chair of the Staffing Sub Committee will inform the Director in writing of the Sub committee’s decision. The Director will have a right of appeal to the Executive Committee in accordance with the steps outlined at paragraphs 3.15 to 3.18 above.