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How to deal with bullying in the workplace
It recently hit the news that PwC is following some other big firms in cracking down on alcohol in the workplace, to try and prevent incidents of sexual harassment. This follows earlier news that Partners from some of these firms have been dismissed for inappropriate behaviour over the past three years, including harassment and bullying.
With the festive season upon us – and with that many work parties – we thought it would be useful to provide some guidance on bullying issues in the workplace. Sexual harassment and bullying are closely aligned. Take, for instance, a work party at which someone – maybe your colleague or even boss – makes a sexual advance that you refuse. That person could walk away and never mention it again – perhaps they cringe with embarrassment every time they remember it.
But sometimes, he/she may use it as a pretext for on-going inappropriate behaviour – or plain bullying because you had the gall to reject them.
Unwelcome sexual advances, sexual comments, photos and/or emails of a sexual nature could be construed as harassment. And ‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’ all counts as bullying in the workplace.
In this piece, we provide some guidance for dealing with these difficult workplace issues.
How to deal with bullying/abusive behaviour
· In milder instances of bullying, you may be able to discuss matters directly and informally with the perpetrator. Someone, for instance, who constantly seems to be on your case about the quality of your work product may just think they are being rigorous. They may have no idea their behaviour is upsetting you and will work with you to address your concerns once you have raised them.
· Speak to your close colleagues to try and ascertain if you are being singled out – not only is this a good way to get support, but it also gives you vital information to know how to proceed. If everyone gets the rage off a particular partner, it may be that you can deal with the behaviour collectively, or just take comfort in the fact that you are not alone!
· Speak to your HR team about the situation. Remember there are company procedures in place for dealing with unacceptable behaviour. Some complaints may be dealt with internally and informally depending on the level of seriousness – for instance, pointing out the unacceptable behaviour can often be enough to deal with lower level issues. Even with this, however, HR should offer support. For more serious complaints (or if the behaviour continues despite the warning), formal procedures may be triggered.
· Keep a diary, noting all and any instances of bullying/harassment – it is essential that you retain a record of the dates and times of the events that you believe amount to inappropriate behaviour.
· If you decide to resign on the back of being bullied and/or harassed at work, then you could potentially bring a claim for constructive/unfair dismissal to an Employment Tribunal (you will need to have worked for your employer for at least two years and make a claim within three months of the last date you worked). These cases can be difficult so get legal advice before you make a decision – ACAS can be a good starting point for guidance.
· Alternatively, evaluate your career goals, clarify your values and priorities, and develop a concrete and realistic plan for changing your job. Talk to a recruiter about getting out of there and moving your career positively forwards.
No-one wants to find themselves in a bullying or harassment situation – but sadly, many of us will experience such behaviour at some point in our careers. You don’t have to put up with it, though, there are ways and means to tackle inappropriate or plain bad behaviour.
Nobody wants to work in a toxic environment. Follow the tips above, and hopefully, you won’t ever need to!