What you can do if you’re being bullied at work
Content / trigger warning
The three steps you need to take when you're being bullied at work
1. Make an informal complaint
Informal complaints can be a simple message to your manager on your work’s messaging platform or a casual chat in your office’s kitchen when you’re both grabbing a coffee. It’s as simple as saying, “hey, I don’t like how X spoke to me.”
2. Make a formal grievance
If your informal complaint hasn’t been taken seriously, you should submit an official grievance. A grievance is just a letter detailing what your complaint is about and who it involves. You can use Valla’s easy-to-use template to ensure your complaint looks as professional as possible.
3. Understand your leverage
When writing your grievance, you want to make sure it gets taken seriously. You can do that by understanding why your employer should take it seriously through leverage.
How leverage works in your grievance
Leverage happens in two ways: reputational risk and legal risk.
Reputational risk occurs when your employer doesn’t want to risk their reputation. If your employer has won awards for their DEI policies, but you’ve suffered racial discrimination, that would make them look very bad.
Legal risk is also a very powerful motivator. In the simplest of terms, does your employer have a legal risk when it comes to your complaint? Would they have to pay you some form of compensation because of it?
What is the legal risk of bullying in the workplace?
Bullying itself isn't illegal at work. It's not a legal term. But there are a few kinds of bullying that are illegal at work.
The first one is when bullying is because of a protected characteristic, e.g. age, race, gender, etc. If you are being bullied because of a protected characteristic, then that's called harassment according to the Equality Act, and that is illegal. Your employer needs to address that, and if they don't, then that is legal leverage that you have because they need to stop or else you could take them to Tribunal.
When writing a grievance, you can say, I believe that I am being bullied because of my protected characteristic. And anybody who knows anything would sit up a little bit and think, oh, I should probably take this one a little seriously. That looks like it could be a legal risk, and I better go and try and figure out what's going on here and see if I can put a stop to it now before this becomes a legal problem.
You don't actually have to take them to Tribunal. You just need to let them know that there is a risk there that they should try and take care of. And a lot of employers will be sensible and try and reduce that risk and get the problem solved.