Dealing with Bullying in the Workplace: Advice for employers

For a small business, bullying in the workplace can have a deep impact. It can lead to decreased productivity, lowered morale, increased absences and potentially to expensive and lengthy employment tribunals. Added to that the emotional effects of bulling on the victim, and the fact that one office bully can affect the working environment even for those he or she does not target, and it makes for a very unpleasant situation.

workplace bully

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As a small business owner, and employer, you are responsible for the welfare of your employees under the Health and Safety Act 1974, so you need to know the signs of bullying in the workplace and put a stop to it before it escalates.

What is bullying?

In its guide for employers on dealing with workplace bullying, ACAS, the UK’s employment relations service, defines bullying as

“offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.”

Workplace bullying may not be the name-calling and taunts of the schoolyard, but it can have just as much impact on the victim, often more, as it is much more subtle. Workplace bullying can be:

  • humiliation
  • exclusion
  • intimidation
  • harassment
  • sabotage of work or promotion prospects
  • constantly singling someone out for blame or criticism

In the workplace that can translate to some of the following signs, which as an employer, you should look out for:

  • withholding information or giving incorrect information
  • undermining a co-worker
  • refusing to delegate tasks
  • spreading malicious rumours

The problem with workplace bullying is that what may be considered bullying by one employee might be considered office banter or just firm management by another. Then there is the fact that the victim may not be willing to speak up, for fear of being thought of as weak, or a “snitch”. And added to that, other employees may not be willing to speak out for fear of calling the bully’s attention to themselves.

This is why it is important to make clear to your employees the behaviours which will not be tolerated.

What can employers do?

As an employer, you need to have a clear policy in place that makes it clear that bullying should not be tolerated, with a set of rules and consequences, and a formal complaints procedure. It is in your best interests to have a supportive environment within your company, not one where the victim feels that they have nobody to turn to. And they may in turn lose respect for you for not addressing the problem.

You should also encourage your employees to look out for any signs of bullying. And make sure you yourself set a good example in your behaviour towards others

If a complaint of bullying is made, it should be investigated and followed up promptly. Gather the evidence and review it thoroughly before deciding how to proceed. An informal  talk may be all that is needed, but in some cases, disciplinary action will need to be taken.

Start by calling the employee into your office, and talk through your concerns, outlining each reported incident. Give the employee a chance to tell his or her side of the story, but make it clear that his or her behaviour will not be tolerated. It may be that this is the end of the issue.

However, if attempting to resolve the situation informally does not work, then you may have no choice but to start disciplinary action against the bullying employee. You should make sure you follow procedures carefully and ensure that both victim and accused are treated fairly. Possible punishments for bulling may be a written warning, suspension or even dismissal, but before deciding on your course of action, review the facts again. For example, if the bully has accepted his or her actions were wrong, then a written warning may be enough.

For more information, contact ACAS on 08457 47 47 47

Author Bio: Altmore Business Law are a commercial law firm in the East Midlands, providing solicitors in Nottingham, Leicester, Grantham and across the region. They work with both SMEs and large companies, and provide advice and guidance on a broad range of matters.

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