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How to Handle Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

Although we most commonly associate bullying with the playground, the sad truth is that it’s prevalent in the workplace too. Likewise, harassment is a common problem, and business owners are often unsure how to address the matter.

It’s vital to understand what constitutes bullying and harassment, and how to deal with them effectively. With that in mind, here’s a useful guide.

Bullying and Harassment – What’s the Difference?

Bullying and harassment are similar in that they both involve an abuse of power, and victimisation of an individual (or occasionally more than one individual).

The key difference is that harassment is defined as acting with prejudice against someone else, based on their gender, religion, nationality or sexuality (for example). As such, the victim is better protected by the law. Bullying is less well defined, and can be harder to tackle.

Forms of Bullying / Harassment

Bullying and harassment can take many forms. Here are a few examples:


  • Making lewd comments about someone’s sexuality.
  • Racist abuse
  • Excluding a member of staff based on skin colour
  • Making ageist remarks


  • Spreading malicious gossip about someone
  • Threatening behaviour
  • Cyber-bullying (e.g. on social media or via email)
  • Deliberately sabotaging someone else’s work
  • Making other employees take on work that’s pointless or humiliating

Recognising the Signs

Generally speaking, bullying and harassment in the workplace is easy to spot – especially if you maintain good communication with your staff and promote an open, comfortable working environment. Here are a few signs that there might be a problem:

  • Unusual behaviour. An employee may suddenly start taking a lot of time off sick, or appear withdrawn. They might even act aggressively.
  • An ‘atmosphere’. Sometimes, even a slight hint of bad feeling in the office can give you a valuable clue that something is amiss.
  • Solid evidence. This might take the form of a malicious email or an overheard conversation.

Dealing with the Issue

Bullying and harassment can have dire consequences for staff and businesses alike – not only adversely impacting someone’s mental and physical wellbeing, but reducing productivity in the workplace too. As such, it needs to be taken seriously.

  • Keep in touch. Most problems can be identified early, provided there’s good communication between management and employees. For example, regular meetings with an HR expert gives staff the chance to discuss issues in confidentiality – and you the opportunity to address the problem swiftly.
  • Adopt a zero-tolerance approach. Establish, right from the start, that you don’t tolerate this type of behaviour in the workplace. Even better, include it in your staff handbook, so that you can easily refer back to it if required.
  • Call in the experts. Sensitive situations sometimes call for expert assistance. An experienced HR professional can help – through offering practical solutions, mediation services and more.
  • Get training. It’s a great idea to invest in some specialist training, to ensure you know how to handle this type of situation and remain within the law.

Get Clued Up on Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace

If you’d like to find out more about handling these types of issues at work, we recommend that you enrol on our forthcoming Devon training course. We’ll be covering everything you need to know in order to deal with bullying and harassment effectively – to learn more, please get in touch by calling 01803 861086 or contact us here.