What constitutes bullying and how to handle a complaint

Every single employee has the right to be treated with respect and dignity at all times. Sadly though, this isn’t always the case.

According to research conducted by us, almost two in five (37%) employees have been bullied or harassed at work – so ask yourself, how attuned are you to what goes on behind your business’ doors?

Workplace bullying is without a doubt wrong, and in this article we’ll walk you through how you can eliminate it as best you can.

What’s bullying?

What? Bullying is unwarranted and unwelcome behaviour. Often, but not always, victims of bullying are weaker or in a more vulnerable position to that of the individual bullying them. When an employee’s a victim of bullying, they’re left feeling intimidated and mistreated.

Why? Bullying can rear its ugly head for any number of reasons. It could be because of a protected characteristic – like an employee’s race, religion or sex, to name just a few, or the bully could have simply taken a dislike to the individual for no apparent reason.

How? There isn’t a finite platform for bullying. It could be over email, in person, by written word, on social media or via text, as well as through physical actions.

Usually, bullying is carried out by someone more senior to the victim. That said, the roles can just as easily be reversed, so it’s important not to disregard any claims based on your organisation’s hierarchy.

What does bullying look like?

Bullying at work can take place in many forms. A handful of examples include:

  • Spreading malicious rumours about an employee;
  • Ridiculing or demeaning an employee;
  • Allowing colleagues to see an employee being criticised, when they don’t reasonably need to see it;
  • Overbearing supervision and/or continual criticism of an employee;
  • Practical jokes; and
  • Singling out an employee and applying unfair and inconsistent standards or practices.

How to handle a complaint

It’s important to have a clearly defined and communicated process in place for dealing with bullying complaints, so that all employees are treated equally and fairly.

Here’s our seven-step process to managing the initial conversation:

1. Take any complaints you receive seriously, and make a point of reassuring the employee that it’ll be thoroughly investigated.

2. Ask the employee how they would like their complaint to be handled. If you can, try to align your process with their wishes.

3. While remaining sensitive to the situation, encourage the employee to go into as much detail as possible.

4. Make sure you’re supportive throughout. You should never dismiss the employee or accuse them of being oversensitive.

5. Handle the complaint confidentially, and make sure the employee in question knows this will be the case.

6. Try to avoid asking the employee to repeatedly recall the events – this could be very distressing for them. Make notes during your first conversation and only revisit the incident(s) if you absolutely have to.

7. If a manager’s involved with the bullying complaint in any way, then it should be passed on to a more senior manager – that isn’t implicated.

Then what?

After you’ve received the bullying complaint, it’s time to decide on the next steps. Below is a summary of the various stages you’ll need to follow.

Important: to ensure you’re handling the complaint appropriately and aren’t at risk of any form of negative backlash, you should always seek legal advice for support specific to your situation.

Failure to follow the correct course of action could result in: a claim for constructive unfair dismissal in an Employment Tribunal, or a personal injury claim (if the employee’s suffered a pscyhological injury) in the Civil Courts.

Got a question?

Bullying’s a sensitive subject. As such, it’s imperative you handle any complaints right first time, every time.

If you need help with anything from putting policies in place and handling difficult conversations, to carrying out investigations and following fair procedures, our experts are here for you.

Get in touch with the team on 0345 844 1111 or hello@citation.co.uk to see how we can start supporting your business today.

And if you’re a Citation client, remember, we’re available 24/7 with our advice line.

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