Bullying / Harassment


The terms bullying and harassment and victimisation are often used interchangeably.  Bullying currently has no legal definition in the UK, but is generally seen as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine or injure the recipient in some way. Bullying is unwelcome and unwarranted. In a workplace, it often takes place when a more senior person is bullying someone in a more junior position. It is mainly seen as intimidating or offensive. A legal claim for bullying would generally come under legislation for harassment. 

Harassment generally means that someone is suffering because of someone else’s unwelcome conduct on grounds such as age, race, gender, nationality or religion, which humiliates or demeans the victim. Bullying and harassment is not only face to face, it can also take place via emails, and other forms of communication.

Commonly claims for bullying, harassment or victimisation will be linked to discriminatory grounds - such as sex or race.  In many cases workers will claim they are being victimised because they have sought to assert their rights under discrimination legislation (making what is known as a "protected act" and being subject to a detriment as a result), but the right not to be victimised is wider than that and covers workers who make claims for whistleblowing, raise health and safety issues or who take time off work to accompany a felllow worker in a disciplinary or grievance procedure and are subject to a detriment, amongst other categories.   

In addition to claims under specific employment legislation,  an employee who is suffering from bullying or harassment may be able to bring a claim for breach of contract, because of breach of an implied term in their contract of employment.  The three most relevant in this context are (i) the term of mutual trust and confidence (ii) the employer will provide a safe system of work and (iii) an implied term following the case of Waters v Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police [2000] that "the employer shall render reasonable support to an employee to ensure that the employee can carry out the duties of his job without harassment and disruption by fellow workers".

A worker who has been the victim  of at least two incidents of bullying behaviour at work could also bring a claim under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997  against the employer for failing to prevent it.  The Claimant has to show that the behaviour caused them anxiety or distress and would bring the claim in the civil courts. 

We regularly advise on these difficult issues and will always treat you with sensitivity.  Please call if we can help you on +44 20 7959 2442.