25 April 2023

The recent resignation of the Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, following an investigation into eight complaints against him for bullying, has shone a spotlight on bullying in the workplace and when particular management styles may amount to unreasonable treatment.

Bullying is classed as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, involving the misuse of power that can make a person feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened. Employees are unable to bring a “stand alone” claim of bullying in the Employment Tribunal. However, bullying may amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence, and potentially result in a constructive unfair dismissal. Likewise, if the behaviour or words used relate to a protected characteristic, such as disability, sex, age, then it can amount to harassment under the Equality Act 2010.

It is the effect of the treatment that is relevant – there is no need to show there was an intention to bully or harass.

Examples of bullying include:

  • Reprimanding someone in front of others- either clients or peers
  • Putting unreasonable pressure on someone to achieve obviously unrealistic targets
  • Shouting at someone
  • Making inappropriate, derogatory remarks.

Employers are entitled to manage staff and expect them to undertake their work to an acceptable level. Where they fail to do so, they can be addressed and provided with reasonable, constructive criticism. This can be done informally or formally as part of the capability procedures – with appropriate warnings being issued. As long as this is done fairly, legitimately and in a reasonable manner, it will not give rise to a successful claim against an employer.

Some managers will be more forthright and robust than others – this won’t in itself amount to bullying. However, managers should consider how their approach might be perceived and whether it is necessary or, indeed, gets the best out of their team.

There is no doubt that Mr Raab was in a highly pressured role with a great deal of responsibility. Some roles will be difficult and stressful where high standards will be expected. However, there are many jobs with highly stressful environments – both for management and employees.

Employers have a duty of care to all employees to ensure their safety and dignity at work. A grievance procedure should be in place, to inform employees how they can raise issues of bullying or harassment and confirm that they will not be subjected to any detriment for doing so.

In order to prevent bullying behaviour, employers should.

  • Have policies in place dealing with Equal Opportunities, Anti-Bullying etc.
  • Ensure the policies set out behaviours expected of employees and those which will not be tolerated and that they are communicated to all staff.
  • Confirm that any breach/allegations of bullying or harassment will be dealt with under their disciplinary procedure.

As an office holder, Mr Raab was not an employee and was given the option of resigning. However, where employees are found to have bullied or harassed others, a disciplinary process should be undertaken. Depending on the seriousness of the allegations, sanctions could include dismissal with or without notice.

It’s vital that employees are not subject to any detriment for raising issues or grievances relating to bullying, not only because this could in itself give rise to claims against an employer, but it ensures that they feel secure and confident to bring concerns to light. Those concerns can then be addressed appropriately, providing a better working environment for all.