Bullying and harassment in the workplace guide

The following article is a general guide and as the Branch covers a variety of employers there will be variations in the policies of the employers, as always contact your Workplace steward in the first instance for advice.

Bullying and harassment are common problems affecting many members at work. But both bullying and harassment are unacceptable, and the law makes it clear that all employees have the right to work in a safe environment.

Your employer is responsible for creating and maintaining a safe workplace, free from bullying, intimidation and harassment. Employees are protected by a combination of employers’ policies and legislation.

If you or someone you know is affected by bullying and harassment, contact your UNISON representative for advice.

What is bullying?

Bullying includes:

offensive, intimidating, malicious, or insulting behaviour;
abuse of authority which violates the dignity of an individual or a group of people;
creating a hostile environment against an individual;
the undermining, humiliation or injury of an individual.
The bullying does not need to relate to a protected characteristic (discussed below) but unless it does, or is of a sexual nature, it is not prohibited by the Equality Act 2010 (or, in Northern Ireland, under various pieces of equality legislation addressing a protected characteristic).

What is harassment?

Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of people in the workplace or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

To be protected under the Equality Act (or in Northern Ireland under various pieces of equality legislation addressing a protected characteristic), it must be related to gender reassignment, disability, age, sex (or be of a sexual nature), sexual orientation, race, religion or belief (and in Northern Ireland political opinion) or nationality. It may be an isolated incident or come up again and again.

Harassment includes bullying if it relates to one of the protected characteristics listed above.

A key factor in determining whether harassment has occurred is whether the actions or comments are viewed as demeaning and unacceptable to the recipient.

A few examples of bullying/harassment could include:

making offensive or intimidating comments;
withholding information so the job cannot be done properly;
unreasonable or impossible deadlines or workloads;
overbearing supervision or unjust criticism;
blocking opportunities or making threats about job security.
What can you do about bullying and harassment?

There are a few simple steps you can take if you are affected by bullying at work:

keep a written record or diary of all bullying incidents, including past incidents – no matter how small they appear;
speak to the bully or harasser (if you can): they may not have realised how distressing their actions are to you – if you are unable to do this, ask your UNISON representative to raise it on your behalf;
speak to your employer – your UNISON representative will be able to advise you on the best way of doing so and accompany you to any meetings with your employer.