Obviously bullying is something no manager or business owner wants to see in his/her organisation. But it’s worth considering in real terms how much of an impact bullying might have on your business. It’s not just something unpleasant, it makes a real and measurable difference to your bottom line.
The non-legal impact
Being bullied can have a significant impact on the mental health of an employee. It often goes on for a very long time, and if the person is being bullied by someone senior to them, they can be very reluctant to try to address it, meaning the impact on their well-being can be magnified. Stress, anxiety and depression can all result from being bullied, as can more physical symptoms like sleep deprivation, loss of appetite or even substance abuse.
An increase in sickness absence is the natural consequence of the physical and mental effect of bullying. The Health and Safety Executive estimates that bullying is the cause of between 10 and 20% of stress-related sickness absence. Sick pay, lost productivity and replacement staff all cost your business money.
But productivity isn’t just affected by sickness absence. Staff who are being bullied have low morale, and low productivity as a result. Where bullying is taking place, it is also likely that morale in general throughout the whole team will be low, or even the whole organisation in the case of a small business. Employees may fear being the next victim, may suffer from deteriorating relationships within the team generally as victims of bullying are less positive members of the team, and may simply be affected by a poor atmosphere at work. A team where bullying is taking place is just not a nice place to be for anyone, and the impact on productivity in your organisation could be significant.
An increase in staff turnover also results from bullying. Frequently a bullied employee looks to leave the business when an opportunity arises, but, just as morale is affected more widely, increased turnover also applies to more than just the victim, as other employees also seek to escape a difficult atmosphere. High staff turnover can be extremely costly, as productivity suffers, recruitment and training costs soar and management time being taken up dealing with these issues becomes significant.
Management time is also significant in dealing with grievances or disciplinaries, both of which frequently result from a bullying problem, and both of which can have a disproportionate effect on a very small organisation.
If all that isn’t reason enough to prevent bullying in your business, consider the possibility of legal action. Bullying is not a specific legal claim, however those being bullied may have a range of other routes available to them if they wish to take legal action, including constructive dismissal and personal injury. Whilst none of these routes are straightforward, meaning that the chances of this happening are reduced, if a legal claim is forthcoming it will be enormously costly to your business.
Constructive dismissal is where an employee is forced to resign because their employer has fundamentally breached the contract of employment in some way. This could be an express term of employment (something specifically agreed in writing, such as pay or working hours). Or it could be a breach of an implied term. There are several implied contract terms that a bullying victim could argue have been breached if an employer fails to prevent or address bullying, such as the duty of trust and confidence, or the duty to provide a safe working environment.
Personal injury claims
Outside the framework of the employment tribunal system, someone who has been bullied at work could bring a claim for damages in the form of a personal injury claim, if they have physical or psychological injuries resulting from bullying and the employer failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it. Unlike a claim for constructive dismissal, the employee would have up to three years to bring a personal injury claim.
Discrimination and harassment
If the bullying involved a relevant protected characteristic (such as being related to their race, or sexual harassment), the victim could bring a claim of unlawful discrimination and/or harassment under the Equality Act 2010, within three months of the act, or the last in a series of acts.
Protection from Harassment Act 1997
This ‘stalking’ legislation isn’t specifically aimed at the workplace, but severe bullying as a course of conduct (as opposed to a single incident) could potentially fall under this legislation.
If you think you have a problem with workplace bullying and would like some advice, get in touch.