Guidance if you are being harassed or bullied

Site updated on February 17, 2020

Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at work. Bullying and harassment of any kind are in no-one’s interest and should not be tolerated in the workplace; but if you are being bullied or harassed it can be difficult to know what to do about it. 


Bullying and harassment is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended – harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.


Examples of bullying or harassing behaviour could include:


  • spreading malicious rumours
  • unfair treatment
  • picking on someone
  • regularly undermining a competent worker
  • denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities


Bullying and harassment can happen:


  • face-to-face
  • by letter
  • by email, text or social media
  • by phone


The law


Bullying itself is not currently covered by the law, but you still have rights and you should raise the matter with your Employer or Trade Union. If you need any support, call our advice line.

Harassment is covered by law. This is when the unwanted behaviour is related to one of the following:


  • age
  • sex
  • disability
  • gender (including gender change or identity issues)
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation


What you  should do if you are being bullied or harassed


You should see if you can sort out the problem informally first. If you can’t, you should talk to your:


  • manager or supervisor
  • human resources (HR) department (if there is one)
  • trade union representative


If this doesn’t work, you can make a formal complaint using the employer’s grievance procedure. If this doesn’t work and you are still being harassed, you can take legal action at a tribunal. If this involves discrimination, you may be entitled to compensation.

Harassment, in general terms is: 

unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of men and women in the workplace. It may be related to age, sex, race, disability, religion, nationality or any personal characteristic of the individual, and may be persistent or an isolated incident. The key is that the actions or comments are viewed as demeaning and unacceptable to the recipient.

Bullying may be characterised as: 

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

Bullying or harassment may be by an individual against an individual (perhaps by someone in a position of authority such as a manager or supervisor) or involve groups of people. It may be obvious or it may be more devious activity. Whatever form it takes, it is unwarranted and unwelcome to the individual.

Examples of bullying/harassing behaviours include:

  • spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone by word or behaviour
  • copying memos that are critical about someone to others who do not need to know
  • ridiculing or demeaning someone – picking on them or setting them up to fail
  • exclusion or victimisation
  • unfair treatment
  • overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position
  • unwelcome sexual advances – touching, standing too close, the display of offensive materials
  • making threats or comments about job security without foundation
  • deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism
  • preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities.

Bullying and harassment are not necessarily face to face. They may also occur in written communications, electronic (e)mail, phone, and automatic supervision methods such as computer recording of downtime from work or the number of calls handled if these are not applied to all workers.

Comments made on Social Media outside work can still be dealt with as a work matter if it involves your employment in some way. For example, where offensive comments made during the work day are repeated at weekend on Facebook or Twitter. Your Employer should take steps to protect you from this abuse.

Bullying and harassment make someone feel anxious and humiliated. Feelings of anger and frustration at being unable to cope may be triggered. Some people may try to retaliate in some way. Others may become frightened and demotivated. Stress, loss of self-confidence and self-esteem caused by harassment or bullying can lead to job insecurity, illness, absence from work, and even resignation. Almost always job performance is affected and relations in the workplace suffer.

Don’t accept it, take some action to stop it. Contact us for help.

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