Fear is the biggest factor preventing people from reporting workplace bullies - Zafin Aktar

According to a recent report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), a quarter of employees think their company turns a blind eye to workplace bullying and harassment.

Workplace bullying can drive people to despair Picture: JPI Media
Workplace bullying can drive people to despair Picture: JPI Media

This disturbing statistic is made even more shocking by the report’s revelation that, although 15 per cent have experienced bullying in the past three years, more than half of them did not report it to the firm. “Fear is the biggest factor,” said one respondent. “You’re singled out when something happens to you.”

The report by the CIPD, which represents HR professionals, was based on two online surveys carried out by polling organisation YouGov.

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One canvassed the views of more than 2,000 workers, while the other surveyed HR professionals and decision-makers. The CIPD also conducted an online focus group with workers who had experienced bullying and harassment.

Some people said they suffered from stress, anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations and suicidal thoughts.

“It can take a lot of courage for someone to speak up about inappropriate behaviour at work, but there are very disappointing results on the ability of organisations to deal compassionately and effectively with complaints,” the CIPD said.

“Many people felt their organisation didn’t act swiftly or fairly to resolve the complaint, or that they were even being blamed for the situation.”

The most common form of bullying or harassment was “being undermined or humiliated in my job”, reported by 55 per cent of women affected and 50 per cent of men. Then came “persistent unwarranted criticism” and “unwanted personal remarks”.

Around 4 per cent of employees said they had been sexually harassed over the past three years, the CIPD said. It described the problem as “stubborn”, despite decades of equalities legislation. This is unacceptable. Employers need to be vigilant for any bullying happening in the workplace, as they have a duty of care for the health, safety and well-being of all their employees.

So what does the law say about bullying in the workplace and can taking legal action help stamp out such destructive and emotionally damaging behaviour?

There are several definitions for bullying and harassment at work. The Equality Act 2010 defines harassment as “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual”.

For the most part, people can agree on extreme cases of bullying, but it can often be difficult to determine what behaviour does actually constitute bullying.

A person may consider someone’s conduct towards them to be bullying, whereas the other person may perceive the behaviour as firm management.

In practice, it may be helpful for employers to have a bullying and harassment procedure that sets out specific examples of behaviour that will be considered bullying. Employers should not only be vigilant about bullying behaviours but should also be aware of the other signs an employee is being bullied.

Those may include: poor attendance; loss of productivity; withdrawal from other work activities; loss of respect for managers and supervisors; and increase in resignations.

It is in every employer’s interests to promote a safe, healthy and fair environment in which their staff can work. Bullying has a negative effect not only on the victim but also on the organisation.

In order to tackle bullying, employers should create and implement appropriate workplace policies and procedures. A specific policy gives a clear stance that the organisation will not tolerate bullying, harassment or victimisation in any form.

The policy should inform employees what bullying behaviour could look like, who to tell, how to come forward and the relevant grievance procedure.

It is also important to outline the protection from victimisation that the person will receive, as this may encourage employees to come forward.

Confidentiality should be considered at all times. It is the duty of every employer to stamp out bullying in the workplace. This disturbing CIPD report shows that there is a long, long way to go.

Zafin Aktar is a senior employment lawyer with rradar