Cases of bullying at work are unfortunately quite common, even when this involves your boss rather than a colleague. Such issues often arise when a person is new to a job, but can also develop after you have been in a job for a number of years and your line manager changes.

You should not be intimidated into leaving a job that you enjoy because of bullying, but it can be a very difficult time where you may feel you are betraying trust or acting unprofessionally. However, you have basic employee rights and there are a number of things you can do to address the situation in the right manner.

What is bullying?

You need to be clear that the behaviour you have been subjected to is bullying and not simply a manager using quirky methods you are struggling to adapt to, or a manager being challenging and pushing you to reach specific targets that are not unreasonable. Laws relating to bullying are quite similar to those covering harassment and discrimination, so ultimately you can raise a grievance, but there are certain procedures you should follow in order to amicably resolve the situation in the first instance and then to prove that the behaviour is indeed bullying, which can be classed as:

  • Being treated unfairly or being picked on specifically
  • Being humiliated in front of colleagues
  • Being physically or verbally abused
  • Being blamed for things that others have done
  • Being denied promotion or training opportunities without good reason

Bullying can take many forms; face-to-face contact, in writing, over the phone, via email or other messaging mediums and of course you should keep evidence if you can. Should you need medical advice if the problem starts to affect your health, you should also keep evidence of this.

Talking to someone about bullying

It is very important to get a view from an impartial third party, but this can be difficult when a senior person is involved. All organisations have different structures, but you should be able to identify somebody you can trust and who is sufficiently removed from the situation to view it fairly and offer independent advice. This is essentially getting a second opinion that the behaviour you have been subjected to is bullying.

After this you should speak to your boss directly, to try and address the issue. It may be that a misunderstanding has occurred and informal talks can resolve the issue, but if this is not the case then you may need to take the matter further. You should always try to resolve the issue amicably, but if necessary, the next step can be:

  • Speaking to the senior person above your boss
  • Speaking to HR
  • Speaking to your trade union rep or an employee representative, if you have one.

Formal procedures when being bullied at work

At this point you should be advised to raise a formal grievance if it is felt there is no prospect of an immediate resolution. This should be in the form of a letter that clearly outlines what has happened, including specific dates and actions, and why you believe this constitutes bullying. The company procedures may involve passing a grievance to your boss in the first instance, but of course in this case you should ask that the letter is passed to his/her line manager, and HR should ensure this happens.

If the grievance letter does not resolve the issue, you may consider taking the problem to an employment tribunal, but this would have to be on the grounds of a complaint over discrimination or harassment. If you end up leaving your job because the problem isn’t resolved to your satisfaction, then you may be able to make a claim for unfair constructive dismissal.

Ison Harrison’s advice for you

Being bullied at work can be a highly emotional time, but it is important that you stick to company procedure and retain an open mind to show you are prepared to take positive actions and offer solutions to resolve the issue. Feeling happy and valued at work is important and a basic right, so you should not feel intimidated, isolated or that you are acting unprofessionally. If your complaints are legitimate then it is a problem the organisation has to address and you have every right to raise it.

If you are being bullied at work by your employer, please contact our Head of Employment Law, Yunus Lunat, for expert advice on what to do next. Call 0113 284 5023 or alternatively email

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