Learn more about Bullying

When people from different backgrounds or experiences come together in a work environment, we cannot expect them to behave in the same way to when they are hanging out with a group of friends or family.

Bullying, itself, is not against the law. However, it is against the law to discriminate somebody because of protected characteristics that were drawn out in the 2010 Equality act. There are 9  protected characteristics. They are:

  • age
  • sex
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation

People will have different ideas on a range of issues including what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. This can lead to situations where people feel like they are being bullied or not realising that their actions are making someone else feel like they are being bullied:

  1. Teasing/joking – When people are teasing or making jokes about each other and all parties seem to be giving as good as they get, this could be considered banter between people who know each other. If the joking and teasing is only one-sided and is repeated, then this could be considered bullying.
  2. Fighting/aggression – There may be heated occasions in a workplace where different personalities clash and someone becomes aggressive. If the aggressive behaviour is a one-off incident and doesn’t continue, this would not be considered bullying. After all, we don’t always know what is going on with someone else and why they might have reacted this way on this occasion.
  3. Isolated incidents – Excluding somebody from an activity, aggressive behaviour, arguments or telling a joke involving a colleague can all be upsetting if you’re on the receiving end. If this behaviour happens often or is carried out to gain power or control, it is bullying behaviour and must stop.

To understand better about the differences between banter and bullying, you can take our Banter vs Bullying course modules through our Wellbeing Academy.

If you are a victim of bullying, you should first see if you can sort out the problem informally first. If you can’t, or you don’t feel safe to address the issue with the bully, you should talk to your:

  • manager
  • human resources (HR) department
  • trade union representative

If this does not work, you can make a formal complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure – all employers should have one. If this does not work and you’re still being harassed, you can take legal action at an employment tribunal.

The Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) helpline is also there for advice:

Acas helpline
Telephone: 0300 123 1100
Textphone: 18001 0300 123 1100
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Here is the Acas guide on being treated unfairly at work.

Your employer is responsible for preventing bullying and harassment – they are liable for any harassment suffered by their employees.



Advice for Employers – 


Not only is bullying unpleasant, it also has an unwanted effect on your workforce and their productivity. You have a duty to make steps to prevent bullying in your organisation and to stamp it out when it occurs. Unhappy workers are not effective workers and are much less likely to be retained in your business.


You can help become a bully and harassment free zone by –


  • Creating a way for your employees to report instances of bullying
  • Remaining confidential when dealing with incidents
  • Take every report of bullying seriously and deal with it immediately. Do not brush it under the carpet as ‘banter’ or put the blame on the victim by telling them to ‘get on with it’ or ‘crack on’ – their mental health might be at stake and if they’ve come to you for help, it must be truly bothering them.
  • Provide guidelines about what is and what is not acceptable in terms of behaviour and language in your organisation, especially where protected characteristics are concerned. This way, nobody can say they weren’t aware of the rules and the consequences of overstepping them.
  • Create an open and honest communication with your teams and breed a culture of respect
  • Create a Bullying and Harassment Policy if you don’t already have one – you can use this to assess each incident as it comes in and follow a step by step process to manage the behaviour
  • Remember that the reputation of your company may be at risk if you are known to be an employee who doesn’t take bullying seriously. You may also be held accountable by vicarious liability if cases of bullying or harassment are taken further outside of your workplace.

The Acas guide contains a huge amount of helpful information to help you know your responsibilities and what to do if you have a bullying problem in your organisation. You can also register for our Banter vs Bullying Training Modules or Managing Mental Health in the Workplace Courses through our Lighthouse Wellbeing Academy.