-> Programs - Workplace Bullying Prevention - Fact Sheet For United Kingdom



“If employers think bullying in the workplace does not cost, they should think again!”

Almost half of Britain’s workforce has witnessed bullying at work and one in 10 reports having been bullied in the last 6 months.

Workplace bullying in the UK contributes to the loss of 19 million working days every year and billions of dollars in costs to business.

A report by the London Chamber of Commerce found that 52% of bullying victims spend company time worrying about their tormentor rather than working and 28 % of them actually miss work to avoid that person. Twelve percent change jobs. Psychologists at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology found that victims of bullying take 7 days more sick leave than those who had not been bullied.

Workplace bullying is a serious and largely underestimated problem that can have a devastating effect on your business. Failure to address the problem can lead to significant costs and damages. Employers can also be personally liable unless they have taken all reasonable steps to train and educate their employees on workplace bullying including what to do should they witness or be subject to workplace bullying.


Under occupational health and safety laws, employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. This includes providing safe plant and systems of work, information, training and adequate supervision. The risk to health can be either physical or psychological. Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, UK employers will be prosecuted if they fail to fulfil this duty. Apart from statutory penalties, employers who fail to provide a safe workplace will also become subject to legal claims and costs.


Every employer and employee has a contract of employment between them, even if it is not written down. The law also says that, as part of that employment contract, every employer has a duty to take reasonable care of an employee’s safety. The Courts have made it quite clear that the standard of care for an employee’s safety is a very high one.

Accordingly, if an employer breaches that contractual duty by failing to prevent workplace bullying, the employee can sue the employer for breach of contract and potentially obtain damages from the employer for that breach of contract.

Additionally, the law in the UK is also coming to accept that an employer must not, without reasonable cause, undermine the trust and confidence that an employee places in the employment relationship. Again, exposing that employee to workplace bullying would arguably be a breach of that contractual term.

An employee may also be forced to resign due to the workplace bullying. In the eyes of the law, where an employee is forced to leave his or her job due to the actions or inaction of the employer then this is considered to be a constructive dismissal. When an employee is constructively dismissed, he or she may bring a claim against an employer for unfair or unlawful dismissal and seek reinstatement and/or compensation.

Under contract law once an employer becomes aware, or should have become aware of workplace bullying then it must take action to prevent that bullying.


Not only does an employer have contractual obligations to an employee but an employer also has an additional duty of care to an employee, which it must not breach – this obligation arises in the law of tort, commonly known as negligence. The obligation is similar but distinct from an employer’s contractual obligation. Put simply, an employer has a legal obligation to provide a safe system of work and where the employer breaches that obligation then the employer would be liable to the employee for damages for personal injury.

In this area, there is what is known as vicarious liability. This is where an employer is liable because of what an employee has done or failed to do, despite the utmost precaution taken by the employer. Of course, vicarious liability does not extend to cover every act of an employee, as the conduct of the employee must have a close relationship to their work and the act must be negligent or intentional. However, in certain circumstances an employer may be liable for workplace bullying committed by another employee even where that employer has no knowledge of the conduct of the employee. This is particularly so in circumstances where an employer has failed to provide any training.

Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 employers are under a legal obligation to provide a safe system of work, and this includes making sure that all employees behave themselves on the job. If an employer knows that some employees are bullying others, but does nothing to stop this, then the employer will be liable if another employee suffers loss.


Generally, a person, who has suffered a personal injury arising out of, or in the course of, his or her employment is likely receive compensation from the worker’s employer. The employer does not have to be at fault for the injury. Workers compensation injuries can include both physical and psychological injuries.

So long as employment was a substantial contributing factor to the injury, the employee will probably receive workers compensation payments. Of course, this has a significant impact on an employer’s workers compensation premium payments.


Increasingly, employees who have suffered because of workplace bullying may also consider complaints to either the Equal Opportunities Commission, Commission for Racial Equality or Disability Rights Commission, claiming that they have been the victim of unlawful discrimination.

This has been common for years in the case of sexual harassment and racial discrimination, but now employees are beginning to realise that other forms of workplace bullying, such as the bullying of young male apprentices or young female staff, may also lead to complaints on the grounds of sex or age discrimination.


The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 imposes the following penalties for a breach of the Act:

  • Lower Court £20,000.00
  • Higher Court Unlimited

Of course, damages and legal costs associated with common law claims will often be far more financially devastating.

Your ability to demonstrate that you have provided your employees and supervisors and managers with training in this area will be a significant issue in defending any claim.

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