Bullying and harassment

Recognising bullying or harassment


Bullying and harassment can often be hard for employers to recognise, particularly as it may not be obvious to colleagues of the person being bullied or harassed.

This may be because:

  • the harassment or bullying is done in subtle ways
  • staff may think it's part of the 'culture' of the workplace

An individual may also be too frightened to report an incident.

A good employer should be aware of this, and keep an eye out for some of the possible signs of bullying and harassment.

Signs of bullying and harassment

Signs of bullying and harassment may include:

  • absenteeism - if this is more frequent, or for longer periods than usual
  • high staff turnover - especially if it occurs in a particular section or where staff work for a particular manager
  • stress symptoms - including fatigue, anxiety, depression, immune system suppression, aches, pains, numbness and panic attacks
  • a change in an individual's behaviour or performance at work
  • strained relationships and uneasy working relationships, friction and factions

You should not ignore or leave unchallenged an incident just because the individual does not raise a grievance.

How bullying and harassment can be carried out

Bullying and harassment may be carried out face-to-face. However, it may be done in more underhand ways, such as:

  • by letter
  • electronically, by email or social networking sites
  • by phone or text message
  • at work-related social functions

Social media bullying and harassment

Employers need to be aware of the potential for social media to be used for cyber bullying and harassment purposes. 

Online bullying and harassment could include:

  • Social exclusion - limiting interaction to cliques/groups.
  • Posting offensive or threatening comments.
  • Posting photographs or videos.

Online bullying may breach an employer's bullying/harassment policy and so should be treated in the same way as if it had occurred in the workplace. If the harassment is related to a particular characteristic of the individual, eg race, sex, religion etc it is prohibited under anti-discrimination legislation.