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How to spot bullying at work - and the 5 simple ways you can escalate it to find a solution

If you're lucky, you hopefully have no idea what it's like to be bullied at work. After all, the word ‘bullying’ connotes name-calling in the playground, stolen lunch money, and perhaps a quick shove in the corridor before Maths class. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it all gets left behind when you enter the world of work – we're adults now, right? But sadly – as this morning's news shows – it's not always the case.

Dominic Raab has resigned from his position as Deputy Prime Minister following a damning inquiry, which found evidence that he had bullied multiple civil servants. In his resignation later, Raab wrote that the inquiry “dismissed all but two of the claims levelled against [him],” adding, “I also believe that its two adverse findings are flawed and set a dangerous precedent for the conduct of good government.”

According to CIPHR, every month, at least 1,500 people in the UK search online for ‘discrimination in the workplace’, while there are another 470 monthly searches for the term ‘racism in the workplace’.

And it can have a serious impact on our overall well-being, as one 2017 study found that “exposure to bullying is associated with both job-related and health- and well-being-related outcomes," such as “mental and physical health problems, symptoms of post-traumatic stress, burnout, increased intentions to leave, and reduced job satisfaction.”

Employment Specialist Louise Purcell from Whitehead Monckton has put together a guide for spotting and dealing with bullying at work, which she's kindly shared with GLAMOUR. Here's everything you need to know, from how to spot workplace bullying, to how to respond to it.

What does bullying at work look like?

Louise says, “In my experience, bullying can take many forms. For example, a colleague may allow banter to get out of hand, engage in name-calling, or spread false rumours. Victims may be excluded from conversations or team social events. A refusal to cooperate can make it very difficult for the individual to do their work.”

She adds that "In my career, I have seen a number of examples of employees being rebuked or shouted at in front of colleagues. This behaviour can be tremendously damaging. Managers might also engage in other types of bullying, including excluding a particular individual, piling too much work on them, not allowing them to have any work, or otherwise setting them up to fail.

“Bullying can be particularly nasty when it involves discriminatory harassment due to a protected characteristic or where this follows the individual having raised a protected disclosure.”

What should you do if you're being bullied at work?

According to Louise, these are the following options available if you feel you're being bullied in the workplace:

Step 1: Informal Resolution

“Whilst bullying is never acceptable, it can sometimes be the case that someone doesn’t realise the effect of their behaviour. Sometimes, seeking to resolve the problem informally by talking to the perpetrator can work.

"It is best to take a firm but non-aggressive approach and to try to explain to the person who is upsetting you exactly how their behaviour makes you feel. If you can’t face talking to them face to face this is understandable and whilst not as direct, putting things in an e-mail to someone can also work. Another option is to ask a trade union representative to support you.”

Step 2: Formal Grievance

"Your employer is likely to have a grievance policy that sets out the formal process for investigating/hearing your grievance.

“Many employers also have a bullying at work policy and so, it may also be that your grievance is heard in line with that policy too. Even if an employer doesn’t have a grievance policy, they should still investigate your grievance and decide upon an outcome. If there is no policy, then ask your manager or the individual who usually looks after HR matters about the grievance procedure which you should follow.”

How do I write a grievance letter?

"A good grievance letter sets out the factual background clearly and chronologically and identifies any discrimination or other unlawful reason for the treatment. Writing a grievance can take a lot of effort and you should make sure that your facts are correct by checking any contemporaneous documents such as meeting minutes and e-mails.

“I have to come to understand over the years that the process of writing a grievance letter can be both upsetting and cathartic in equal measure.”

Step 3: ACAS Early Conciliation

“If the grievance process is not fruitful, then you may want to contact ACAS to see whether it would be appropriate for you to initiate the formal process of ACAS Early Conciliation by submitting an online form. This allows a period of time, usually a month, when ACAS will seek to mediate between you and your employer to resolve a legal dispute with your employer and/or (if appropriate) any individual concerned.”

Step 4: Seek Legal Advice About Your Options

"It is often beneficial to know your options from the outset, to understand your Employer’s obligations and to identify any potential claims which you may already have, such as relating to discrimination or protected disclosures. It would also be helpful to have advice in respect of the grievance process.

“Legal advice will also allow you to ensure that you comply with any time limits on bringing a claim. Some time limits in the Employment tribunal can be as short as three months from the act complained about but navigating the issue of time limits can be tricky and is best done with the benefit of advice from a lawyer.

"It is also possible that if the situation is a serious one and your employer fails to rectify/address it so seriously that this could at some point amount to a “fundamental” breach of the contract of employment in law which is so serious that it undermines your trust and confidence in your employer. If so, the situation may give rise to a potential claim of constructive dismissal.

“However, you should not threaten resignation or a claim of constructive dismissal or indeed, to actually resign without taking careful legal advice beforehand because constructive dismissal claims can be risky and difficult to win and you so, you should be sure that you have a good case before resigning. My preference is to seek to resolve things by negotiation, rather than advising clients to resign which can be a bit of a leap into the unknown in many situations."

Step 5: Employment Tribunal

"If you have a good employment case, then if it is not possible to settle this out of court, any claim will eventually be heard at an Employment Tribunal. The Employment Tribunal system was designed so that parties did not require legal representatives but these days as employment law has become more complex it is often the case that the parties have representatives.

"Employment Tribunal Hearings tend to be similar to other civil court hearings but are perhaps, a little less formal. You would usually have to exchange documents, prepare witness statements and a bundle ahead of a hearing. Sometimes some matters are addressed at preliminary hearings. Ultimately, witnesses are usually expected to attend the hearing to give evidence. You will be questioned on your own evidence by the other side’s representative and your claim will be heard by a Tribunal panel or Judge sitting alone.

“Even if you win at tribunal you do not routinely have your costs paid by the losing party and so, your adviser will need to take this into account when advising about the value of your claim and any strategy for settlement.”

How should you report it if you know a colleague is being bullied?

"Speaking up on behalf of someone else at work is a brave thing to do. However, you may feel that it is worth it to stand up for a colleague who is being unfairly treated. You may want to do the “right thing” and call out the bad behaviour and seek to resolve the issues for the victim. It can certainly make a difference to an individual who is perhaps too worried to raise the issue for themselves.

"Further, your Employer may take a complaint from a third party more seriously. Depending on the circumstances, you may be legally protected against any detrimental treatment from your Employer or colleagues which results due to your complaint.

“You may make any such complaint via the grievance and/or bullying procedure. However, you may be able to raise the issue less formally in some circumstances. You should contact your Employer about the best way to approach this. You may wish to approach your HR person or a manager who is not involved in the situation to ask how you should raise the issue. Your Employer may in some circumstances be able to keep your identity confidential.”

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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