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Bullying in the workplace

View profile for Debbie Sansome
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A conversation that I had with someone last week was centered on him gauging my opinion on something that had occurred between two work colleagues in his business, which had resulted in an employee being dismissed for gross misconduct.

Basically, employee 'A' had been dismissed for her bullying behaviour towards employee 'B'.  The treatment of employee B had been continual, which resulted in her feeling singled out and with no option but to report this to her line manager.

He took action by trying to play down the behaviour of employee A by justification of that is 'merely her way, she is sometimes like that' and 'I am taking this seriously' - this paradoxical statement contradicts how bullying is viewed and managed.

How many of us have excused someone’s behaviour by simply saying 'They are always like that' or 'You will get used to them' - do we really believe what we are saying and is this justification good enough?

When I asked why she was perceived as 'strange', he explained that employee B hardly spoke to her colleagues, appeared nervous around people and never wanted to socialise with the team.  Asking him ironically as to whether he considered there was likely to be a reason for this…

He tried to justify the disciplinary sanction by saying that, albeit employee A had admitted to the behaviour, employee B does not help herself.  She comes across as surly and curt and has, on occasion, been slightly fluid when telling the truth, which made the bullying allegation more difficult to believe initially. 

Notwithstanding that employee B had been untruthful previously, this does not negate her right to raise the bullying  The danger of using a fortiori argument, in assuming that if one thing is true, everything else must be, is extremely risky.

Do we judge people today solely based on what they did yesterday?  Do we judge an accused based solely on their history?  Do we judge and assume guilt solely on a characteristic?  No, so why would it be right to judge in this instance.

When I asked what steps had been taken to ensure that bullying is given zero tolerance in the workplace going forward, he replied that he had sent a 'strongly worded' email to those in employee B’s team.  The email started 'Hey guys'

Enough said...

After seeing the look of despondency on my face, I began.

I advised him on the full and proper procedures to put in place and steps to implement to ensure that this is managed in the right way.  His look did not go unnoticed when I highlighted that an employer could be held vicariously viable for this treatment.

It has sometimes been difficult historically to define the word bullying in the workplace, as justification in certain industries was that it was expected and was merely humour. 

Also, bullying can so often be perceived as outright and upfront intimidation of someone however, it can also take the form of malicious gossip, exclusion, threats over job security with no substance, overload of work, constant criticising and victimisation.

How many people sit in silence during a period of bullying, or simply leave their job because it is easier than raising anything, or even worryingly, try and pass it off as workplace banter but then sit and suffer.

It is concerning though, that if employee A had not admitted to the bullying and instead the employer had relied solely on his perception of employee B, the outcome could have been extremely different…Employment Tribunal, Civil Court, or personal mental injury negligence claim on both the employer and employees to name three potential outcomes.

Employee B may have been perceived by some as 'strange' however, not as strange as employee A will feel when trying to explain to potential future employers as to why her 8 year employment record ended so suddenly…

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