How to handle workplace bullying as an employer or employee

Whether you’re an employer or employee, workplace bullying is something you should be vigilant against at all times.

An Acas report has recently revealed that workplace bullying is on the rise and is particularly rife among ethnic minority public sector workers, LGBT workers, workers with disability and health problems, and women working in male-dominated fields.

It’s not just a problem for the victims of workplace bullying –it’s estimated that lost productivity due to bullying or harassment costs the UK economy over £17bn a year.

Examples of bullying or harassment include:

  • Spreading rumours
  • Exclusion or victimisation
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Undermining someone’s work
  • Unfair treatment
  • Picking on someone
  • Denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities

While bullying isn’t against the law, harassment is. Something is harassment if it is related to one of the following things:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or beliefs
  • Sexual orientation

Whether it’s against the law or not, employers are obligated to take workplace bullying and harassment very seriously. Here are some tips for handling workplace bullying.

Agency workers

If you are a temporary worker hired through a recruitment agency, you can go to your recruitment consultant to report any workplace bullying or harassment that you are being subjected to. The consultant will then liaise with your line manager to resolve the situation.


If you are directly employed by the company and you’re experiencing any of the above examples of workplace bullying, you should report it to you manager, the HR department or, if relevant, a trade union representative.

If you are being bullied by your manager and don’t have an HR department, then go to another senior member of staff to ask for their advice or help.

All employees

Remember that bullying and harassment do not need to happen face-to-face – it can be over the phone or email.

You can seek advice from a Citizen’s Advice Bureau, the Acas helpline (0300 123 11 00) or the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Keep a diary of incidents of bullying or harassment, and keep any emails that may support your claims of bullying.

Try to confront the bully and explain why you would like them to amend their behaviour. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, ask a colleague you trust to act as a mediator, or address the bully over email.

You can find more guidelines for employees here.


Even if you have not received any complaints of workplace bullying, you should still put together a company policy detailing clearly what behaviour is classed as bullying or harassment, and how the company will deal with it. You should also outline guidelines for how your employees should report bullying.

Ensure that the company encourages a fair and consultative managerial style – companies based around an authoritative management style are more likely to experience bullying.

Deal with all complaints promptly and within the company’s formal disciplinary guidelines. If the company gains a reputation for not dealing effectively with complaints, then employees will be more likely to simply quit if they experience bullying.

Many instances of bullying can be dealt with informally, in cases where the bully is not aware of how their behaviour is being interpreted. Sometimes only a conversation is required to make them aware of the problem and amend their behaviour.

You can find more guidelines for employers here.

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