Bullying at Work: When to Walk Away


Employment Law Partner

Tue 13 October 2020 Bullying at Work: When to Walk Away

It has been revealed that one of the most senior civil servants in the Home Office has made a claim in the Employment Tribunal. The civil servant has accused the Home Secretary Priti Patel of forcing him to resign.

The Home Secretary and possibly even the Prime Minister may need to attend the Tribunal in order to give evidence. They will need to be questioned on the allegations that Sir Philip Rutnam was bullied out of his job. 

Bullying is a very serious issue in the workplace. Most employers understand this and have taken steps to ensure there is zero tolerance for bullying by employees.  Policies dealing with this topic can often be found in an employee’s Staff Handbook. It is a good idea to have one in place to give practical support and advice to employees who may be being bullied. 

Where bullying has a discriminatory aspect (for instance, if it is racial, or based on someone’s gender or age) this could also be covered by an Equality and Diversity Policy. Policies like this often say that discriminating against staff as part of a campaign of bullying could be considered gross misconduct. It could therefore, lead to instant dismissal for a perpetrator.

Employees sometimes come to us feeling bullied and want to resign. This is because it is so bad that they dread going to work and/or there are effects on their health and relationships. Resigning can seem like a painless way out but remember it can take months to get a new job in a stagnant economy. It could also feel like the bully has “won” if you leave. 

In most cases, particularly if the employee enjoyed their role before the bullying started, a conversation with HR or a senior manager should happen. This is something which the employee can bring about themselves. 

If things don’t improve, a formal grievance should be raised.  One outcome of the grievance, if it is upheld, could be that the bully is moved out of the employee’s line management. They could even be dismissed if the employer starts a disciplinary procedure against them.  In this way, the employee can keep their role and the bullying behaviour is addressed.

In drastic situations of serious and intolerable bullying, there is an option to resign and then take action against the employer for constructive dismissal. This is applicable where the full grievance process has been tried but failed (remember there is an appeal as part of the process), or where there is a sudden and irrecoverable incident like a physical attack. This would be on the basis it was the bully’s actions that forced the employee to resign and there was really no other option given how damaging the bullying was. 

Getting the resignation letter right is very important. As companies are legally liable for the actions of their employees, they are often initially required to defend cases “on behalf of” the bully.  The outcome of a successful constructive dismissal claim can be compensation for lost earnings, what is known as an injury to feelings award (where appropriate) and other awards.  Resigning is the nuclear option so make sure you take legal advice before taking the plunge.

Please contact Luke Hutchings at our Peterborough Office on 01733 865 636 or click the contact us button to email him directly.

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