Bullied or whingeing?

In this HR Blast we take a brief look at workplace bullying: what we see at Jaluch and what you can prevent in your organisations. Feel free to copy this on to your line managers to raise awareness of the issue and limit your exposure to potential claims.

In several of the grievances we have recently supported clients with, allegations have been made of bullying. And more often than not it’s an employee accusing their manager of verbally bullying them…

Common complaints

  • A bullying tone of voice
  • Being belittled in public
  • Being undermined in front of other people
  • Inappropriate way to speak to an employee
  • Inappropriate language – both verbal and in writing
  • Aggressive communication style
  • Bullying that has ‘forced’ a resignation

Many a time we have heard managers say that their staff need to toughen up a bit and stop whingeing about these things. The problem is though, that if an employee perceives that what is happening is bullying, then like it or lump it, that is what you have to formally manage.

What you can prevent

It’s often far cheaper to take preventative steps than to pay for the cost of sorting out workplace problems. These are just some of the ways to help minimise expense in resolving grievances about bullying…

Coaching to prevent allegations of bullying: Modern workplace bullying – or perceptions of it – is often not about physical bullying, being shouted at or sworn at, being coerced to work unwanted shifts, being excluded socially etc. It is more often about how an employee feels about the language and communication style of their manager and whether their manager manages issues discreetly, or in full view of others.

ACTION! We challenge you to identify which of your managers or leaders lacks discretion or emotional intelligence and so exposes your organisation to claims. Think about how much you would be prepared to bail each of them out if they were formally accused of bullying. Can the organisation afford it? Would you even want to bail them out? In terms of prevention, consider some one-to-one coaching on good communication skills, appropriate assertiveness, use of verbal and non verbal language etc.

Timeliness of responding to complaints: Grievances often take weeks to sort out and in some instances, can take months to resolve. The longer these things drag on, then the greater cost to the business both in terms of using an impartial person to investigate and also managers’ time to resolve the issue. Line managers often in our experience sit back and wait the situation out, but this costs time, money and causes stress.

ACTION! Encourage your line managers to address minor complaints early on rather than let things escalate into formal grievances. Talk to your managers about the importance of not ignoring issues they think are minor, and educate them about the HR and legal cost of sorting out issues that are allowed to fester and grow. But if it does get to that stage it’s important that the organisation actively manages the grievance and does its best to seek an early resolution. The longer these things drag on the more they escalate, the more entrenched parties get and ultimately the more it will cost at tribunal to resolve.

When grievances end up as tribunal claims: Many grievances end in an employee’s resignation or in an employee’s claim of constructive dismissal or discrimination. Be prepared that a grievance about bullying may just be a process someone is following with no real expectation of a mutually agreeable outcome. If this is the case you need to manage it in a way that assumes in due course you will be defending a tribunal claim.

ACTION! Get your line managers to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Make sure they investigate thoroughly, keep good notes and manage the process well and cut absolutely no corners in respect of procedure or thoroughness. It’s crazy to do a half hearted job on a grievance response when that is only going to come back to bite you in the backside in a tribunal.

Boring paperwork can save you time and hassle: Paperwork might at times be boring, but it can save you thousands of pounds in time and compensation if you get it right around bullying.

ACTION! Review your policy on bullying and make sure it reflects what you need it to in respect of your culture, today’s workplace, today’s technology, and the expectations of your staff. Downloading some generic policy off the internet will not be sufficient to get something really appropriate for your organisation and this is not a time for short cuts. Bullying issues also morph from year to year, so using a policy that is more than 12 months out of date may not benefit your organisation at all. Always keep it up to date and relevant to modern social issues. For example, if your current policy doesn’t yet mention Facebook or YouTube, then take that as a hint that it is long overdue for a review.

And finally, a quick reminder on ‘the legal bits’

  1. Follow a full grievance/complaints procedure if you receive an allegation of bullying. A full investigation should take place.
  2. An employer’s failure to take adequate steps to protect a worker who is being bullied by a colleague can amount to a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence. This could give rise to constructive dismissal if the employee resigns because of that breach.
  3. An employer can be held vicariously liable for bullying which relates to one of the nine protected characteristics: race; religion or belief; pregnancy or maternity; sex; marital or civil status; sexual orientation; disability; gender reassignment; age.
  4. Compensation awarded for unlawful discrimination can be unlimited. It could include compensation for injury to feelings and, if the worker has suffered any psychiatric and/or physical injury attributable to the bullying, compensation for personal injury as well. Aggravated damages could also be awarded if there was a continual failure to deal properly with any complaints about the bullying.

Note: If your managers are not familiar with the expression ‘vicariously’ liable, get them to look it up or talk about it. This is an essential part of them understanding their responsibilities in respect of supporting and protecting their staff.

Jaluch provides support and guidance with all aspects of managing employee grievances and tribunal claims. Please speak to one of our HR advice team if you need support in minimising the cost, stress and time of an issue that is on your desk right now.

Don’t miss out!

For great value bullying and harassment awareness training, we are delighted to offer a £50 reduction on the cost of a half day in-house session for 8-12 delegates. We will even throw in a free sample bullying and harassment policy for you to take and create something really specific to your organisation! Contact us to find out more.

Offer applies to bookings made by 31 May 2013.

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individuals matters.

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