Bullying - guidance for members
This guidance is for PCS members who experience bullying or harassment at work. Recent surveys of PCS members have indicated that bullying is still an issue of major concern at work.
PCS believes that all employees have the right to be treated with dignity and respect in a working environment free from bullying, harassment or discrimination.
Any actions or behaviours that interfere with that right could be classed as bullying. Where the treatment is given because of the gender, age, disability status, colour, race, sexual orientation or religion of the recipient, it could constitute harassment.
Whether or not harassment is intentional, it is the effect upon the recipient that is important. This guide gives definitions of bullying behaviours and outlines what members can and should do to address the issues.
There is further and separate guidance available to support PCS representatives in supporting members experiencing bullying or harassment.
There are many manifestations of bullying and, in the same way, many possible definitions.
The one that PCS favours defines bullying as:
"Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, which amounts to an abuse of power or authority, which attempts to undermine an individual or group of employees and which may cause them to suffer stress."
Harassment is now legally defined in UK discrimination law and is a specific offence.
It is generally defined as where a person (the harasser) for a reason which relates to the protected status of the victim (i.e. their gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief or age), engages in unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of:
- violating the victim’s dignity, or
- creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him/her.
There is usually a qualifying clause in the law which says that such conduct can only be found to be harassment if, having regard to all the circumstances, including in particular the perception of the victim, it should reasonably be considered as having that effect.
There is a further legal issue in relation to harassment, in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which makes it an offence for someone to pursue “a course of conduct:
- which amounts to harassment of another, and
- which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.”
‘Harassment’ in this regard is not defined in the law, but it includes causing ‘alarm or distress’ and ‘a course of conduct’ is defined as conduct on ‘at least two occasions’.
Bullies can be from any background, be of any race or gender, and of any grade, so it is not helpful to draw up a stereotype or profile of the bully. However, being able to identify some examples of bullying behaviour may help you to recognise when bullying is happening.
Bullying and harassment can occur in a number of different ways. Some are obvious and easy to identify. Others are more subtle and difficult to explain.
The following are examples of bullying behaviours drawn from the Andrea Adams Trust guidance:
- Repeatedly shouting or swearing in public or private
- Public humiliation
- Persistent criticism
- Constantly undervaluing effort
- Personal insults and name calling
- Persecution through fear or threats
- Dispensing unfair punishment out of the blue
- Increasing responsibility whilst decreasing authority
- Being overruled, ignored, marginalised or excluded
- Setting individuals up to fail
- Setting uncontracted tasks
- Setting unrealistic deadlines for an increased workload
- Removing areas of responsibility and imposing menial tasks
- Deliberately sabotaging or impeding work performance
- Constantly changing guidelines
- Withholding work related information
Bullying will often adversely affect the health of the person being bullied.
Common symptoms of bullying include:
- raised blood pressure
- loss of appetite
- becoming withdrawn
- becoming aggressive
- increased consumption of tobacco, alcohol or drugs
- contemplation of suicide
These are very similar to the effects of long term exposure to stress.
There is no specific legislation protecting employees from bullying at work although unions including PCS continue to campaign for a Dignity At Work law. Generally speaking, issues involving bullying will almost always be resolved more quickly and effectively through negotiation rather than trying to pursue legal action. However, the following are examples of how the law may be used; PCS reps may want to refer to these to put pressure on employers to treat any allegations seriously.
Health and safety legislation
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to ensure the physical & mental health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 obliges employers to assess the risks to health & safety to which their employees are exposed while at work, so that they can take appropriate preventative and protective measures. This applies to both physical and mental health.
Health & safety legislation also gives safety reps legal rights to investigate causes of stress and problems such as bullying and stress related ill-health in the workplace.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued guidance on stress and this includes references to bullying . These are available on the HSE website.
The HSE says that to reduce stress, employers should have effective systems to deal with inter-personal conflict, bullying and racial or sexual harassment. These systems should include an agreed grievance procedure and proper investigation of complaints.
The fact that the HSE refers to bullying at work in its stress guide establishes bullying as a hazard that employers must take steps to control and as a legitimate issue for trade union safety reps to take up with the employer.
In addition, so long as an employer knew or ought to have known about their obligation to protect employees against bullying, they cannot avoid liability by saying they do not condone the behaviour of particular employees.
Unfair (including constructive) dismissal
If bullying behaviour leads to dismissal it may be possible to claim unfair dismissal. Equally if the member feels that the only way he/she can deal with the bullying is to leave the job and, provided he/she has at least one year’s service at the time of leaving, he/she may be able to claim constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal.
However, this is not straightforward and it is not a course of action that PCS recommends, because the member will be without a job and constructive dismissal claims are very difficult to win.
Members are strongly advised to seek legal advice, via their local PCS workplace rep, before deciding to resign.
If harassment or bullying is the result of discrimination on grounds of sex, race, trade union activities, sexual orientation, religion or belief, age or disability it may be possible to bring a discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal. Again, internal grievance procedures will need to have been taken – again, seek advice from your local PCS rep in good time.
Protection from Harassment Act 1997
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 can also be used to deal with extreme cases of harassment at work under the criminal law.
Where harassment involves physical contact or threat of it, it may be appropriate to take civil or criminal action – e.g. for assault, indecent assault or rape.
Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, people who intentionally harass may be guilty of an offence and may face criminal charges.
If you think you are being bullied (or subjected to harassment), you should:
- Talk to your union rep as soon as possible.
- Keep a written record of any incidents, including the facts: i.e time, date and details, the names of any witnesses, your response and your feelings.
- Consider making it clear to the bully that you find their behaviour unacceptable. You can do this in person or in writing and you can take a representative with you for support or to act as a witness if necessary later.
- Talk to colleagues - find out whether you are the only person being bullied or whether anyone else is affected in the same way. A group complaint might carry more weight, and support from colleagues is important in challenging bullying behaviour.
- Keep copies of any appraisals, letters, or memos that are relevant.
- Make sure you know what your job description is, to see whether the responsibility you are given matches it.
- If your workplace has harassment contact officers consider getting in touch for an impartial discussion of the situation you are in.
- Check whether your employer has a policy on bullying or on harassment.
- If necessary seek medical help. If you have an occupational health service consider going to see them.
- If your employer provides a welfare service or an Employee Assistance Programme consider contacting them.
- Find out your employer’s grievance procedure.
- Consider making a complaint. You might need to do this if the incidents are serious or if challenging the bully has not worked. Your rep can advise you.
- Keep your PCS rep informed of any developments.
You should not feel you have to suffer in silence or feel that you are in any way to blame if you are experiencing bullying. Your employer should take the issue seriously and should have procedures you can use to challenge bullying behaviour.
PCS will not tolerate bullying by its reps or staff. It undermines the union and brings it into disrepute. If you are aware of any such incident, get in touch with your group or regional centre, or with PCS HQ.
Updated 6 Feb 2017