The workplace should be somewhere you can rely on being treated fairly and with respect – not somewhere you dread going everyday because you feel bullied or victimised.

Workplace bullying and discrimination can cause many problems for the workforce in general, as well as the individuals affected by it. 22.7 million working days were lost to work-related illness in 2011/12 according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – stress being one of the illnesses blamed for absences. Workers with stress were absent for an average of 24 days to stress in that time, compared to 7.3 for work-related injuries.

Bullying and Harassment

Any type of behaviour that makes you feel intimidated or offended could be construed as harassment – and is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. There are many forms of unfair treatment or harassment, and these include:

The law on bullying and harassment

The law on bullying and harassment is quite difficult to interpret, so if you feel you’re being badly treated at work and need some help, a good employment rights adviser might be your first port of call.

It’s not actually illegal to bully someone, although it is against the law to harass them. The distinction comes when the unwanted behaviour is related to:

If your manager just takes a dislike to you and makes your life hell, you do have other courses of action that you can take to rectify the issue, but the law takes discrimination more seriously than a clash of personalities or a mean boss.

What to do if you’re being bullied or harassed

If you’re being bullied, your first course of action is to informally approach a line manager, your human resources department or your union rep.

Make notes of any incidents that have caused you distress and any examples of bad treatment or bullying. If you have a union rep or HR department, they might be able to intervene on your behalf, and try to resolve the problem. It could be that the manager doesn’t realise they are offending you, or doesn’t mean to be unfair.

If you don’t have anyone else to approach, because you work for a small company or there isn’t a grievance procedure, contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). If the behaviour isn’t related to one of the ‘protected characteristics’ above, you can’t take your employer to an employment tribunal, but you could involve a workplace mediation service.

If you have to resign

If the bullying isn’t discriminatory, but it gets so bad that it results in you being forced to leave your job, you might have a case for constructive dismissal, in which case you would be able to take your employer to a tribunal.

Constructive dismissal is when an employer’s conduct forces you to resign, and the behaviour must be serious, for example changing your working conditions or allowing you to be bullied or harassed.

Employment tribunals

If the harassment is serious, or you think you might have a case for constructive dismissal, contact ACAS for advice first. There might be a way to resolve the problem without going all the way to a tribunal. The ACAS helpline is 08457 474 747.

You could also try hiring a mediator to see if they can help you find a solution.

If you really don’t have any other choice, again, contact ACAS for advice on how to proceed. They will expect you to have taken all reasonable steps to resolve the problem before you go forward with a tribunal, so be prepared to give them details of what you’ve tried so far.

If you’ve been discriminated against, you might be able to get support with your claim from the Equality Advisory Support Service. 

ACAS has produced an in-depth guide to how to deal with bullying and harassment at work, which gives helpful tips on what to do if it’s happening to you. You can also call them on the Employment Tribunal public enquiry line – 08457 959 775 – for advice on the tribunal procedure, although they can’t give you specific legal advice.