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Essays On Bullying And Harassment At Workplace

Workplace Bullying Dissertation

Bullying exists within the majority of organisations.

To what extent is this the employer’s responsibility?


This paper is concerned with the concept of bullying in the workplace and examines two critical issues. Firstly the extent to which bullying and the management of it is the responsibility of the employer. Secondly, it examines the differences between how a for profit and how a not for profit organisation approach the problems of bullying to ascertain to what degree they believe it is their responsibility.

The paper finds that whilst there are differences in the ways both types of organisations operate, they show a similar lack of awareness as to the extent, nature and causes of bullying. The paper concludes with recommendations as to what actions they should take to recognise their responsibilities in this area


A Health and Executive survey suggests the number of violent incidents related to bullying by workers on co-workers in England and Wales in 2002/2003 was 849,000 (British Crime Survey 2005). The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that 20% of UK employees have experienced some form of bullying over the last two years (CIPD 2006). A Trades Union Congress report in 2006 found that 18 million working days are lost to British industry every year through the effects of bullying (TUC 2006). These statistics show that the issue of bullying is having a serious effect on British industry. The question arises as to who, in the workplace, should be held responsible for the occurrence of the problem and who should be expected to deal with it.

Not for profit or non profit organisations are a growing sector of the British business picture. They vary from the traditional form of business in that there is generally no end product or service. Drucker (1990) defines their purpose as bringing about change in people. For many years, the not for profit sector paid little attention to the concepts of management seeing it as being a device of a ‘business’ and therefore of no relevance to themselves (Drucker 1990). Recently, this opinion has changed and the not for profit sector has realised that they must adopt many of the practices which businesses have been using for years including the ways in which they manage people.

This paper examines the issues of workplace bullying by comparing the views, approaches and actions of a profit orientated business - the DIY store, B&Q - and a not for profit organisation - Cancer Research UK.

Literature Review.

The nature of bullying and harassment.

Rayner et al (2001) suggest that although the concept of bullying has existed for a considerable amount of time, it was only in the 1990s that it was formally recognised as a workplace phenomenon and as such, began to receive academic and professional attention. They refer to a documentary on the BBC in 1990 by Andrea Adams as being a lynchpin for our emergent awareness (Rayner et al 2001, pp. 2), and points out that it is the media who have continued to increase public awareness of the issue and that mainstream management texts rarely contain any reference to bullying at work, and are certainly scant of suggestions as to what to do about it (Rayner et al 2001, pp. 3).

ACAS point out that there is little distinction between the concepts of bullying and harassment by saying that these terms are used interchangeably by most people, and many definitions include bullying as a form of harassment (ACAS advice leaflet 2007, page not given). However, they continue by giving more specific definitions of the two, saying that (h)arassment, in general terms is: unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of men and women in the workplace. It may be related to age, sex, race, disability, religion, nationality or any personal characteristic of the individual, and may be persistent or an isolated incident (ACAS 2007, page not given). They add that (t)he key is that the actions or comments are viewed as demeaning and unacceptable to the recipient whereas (b)ullying may be characterised as: offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient (ACAS 2007, page not given). Interestingly, they note that it is not possible to raise a specific complaint of bullying to an employment tribunal and that any such action would need to be defined under discrimination and harassment legislation or under breach of contract relating to duty of care or the Health and Safety at Work Act. The latter can be cited as bullying and harassment can lead to stress and employers have legal duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities; and under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to take measures to control that risk (Health and Safety Executive 2007, page not given). Where a case of harassment is found to have occurred, the employer can face an unlimited fine and unlimited compensation (CIPD 2006a).

Employers therefore have a legal obligation to ensure bullying does not take place.

Several writers (see Mullins 2005, Legge (2005), CIPD (2006a) also link the employers responsibilities for managing bullying and harassment to the concept of the psychological contract which implies a series of mutual expectations and satisfaction of needs arising from the people-organisation relationship (Mullins 2005, pp.37). Whilst these expectations may differ between businesses and employers and employees, Stalker (2000) stresses the inclusion of demonstrating a genuine concern for individuals working in the organisation (Stalker 2000, pp. 28). CIPD have found that employers need to provide a positive working environment to satisfy employees’ expectations under the psychological contract (CIPD 2006a, page not given).

It is not only the employer that is seen to have a role in stopping bullying. From a legal perspective, an individual can face prosecution under criminal and civil law and they could be personally liable and have to pay compensation themselves, as well as any payment the organisation may be ordered to make (CIPD 2006a, page not given). Furthermore, the CIPD feels that (i)ndividuals also have a responsibility to behave in ways which support a hostile-free working environment for themselves and their colleagues. They should play their part in making the organisation’s policy a reality and be prepared to take appropriate action if they observe or have evidence that someone else is being harassed (CIPD 2006a, page not given).

A further problem with defining the concept of bullying is described by the CIPD as being that (t)here is no one checklist of what defines harassment as it is often specific to the person, relating to their feelings of respect and dignity (CIPD 2006a, page not given). This introduces the concept that what one person may consider to be bullying, another may not. This makes the management of the problem difficult.

There are various ways in which bullying can occur. The most obvious form of a face-to-face situation is not the only source and cases have been reported of bullying behaviour through e mail and telephone as well as through the use of remote supervision methods, such as the monitoring of telephone calls and computer usage. ACAS (2007) also note the difficulties in determining what is bullying and what could be considered as the normal practice or culture of an organisation. This leads to two areas of concern. Firstly, how a business culture where a degree of what could be considered bullying is normal develops and how it can be changed. Secondly, there are pressures on an individual to be seen to fit in and not be perceived as weak by raising the issue.

ACAS (2007) have examined this point in some detail and conclude that (p)eople being bullied or harassed may sometimes appear to overreact to something that seems relatively trivial but which may be the ‘last straw’ following a series of incidents (ACAS 2007, page not given). Furthermore, they have found that (c)olleagues may be reluctant to come forward as witnesses, as they too may fear the consequences for themselves. They may be so relieved not to be the subject of the bully themselves that they collude with the bully as a way of avoiding attention (ACAS 2007, page not given). Olsen (2005) suggests that the reasons why a victim of bullying may not report it include lack of management support, lack of confidence in how it will be handled resulting in them being worse off, victimisation by the bully and others, fear of seeming weak, being accused of it being their own fault and being discriminated against for promotion. Olsen also notes that bullies take certain actions to dissuade their victims from reporting them. These include charm, subtle or direct threats and pressuring others to allow or ignore certain behaviours (Olsen 2005, pp. 29).

ACAS offer a range of actions to develop a policy on bullying and harassment. These include: statement of commitment from senior management; acknowledgement that bullying and harassment are problems for the organisation; clear statement that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated; examples of unacceptable behaviour; statement that bullying and harassment may be treated as disciplinary offences; the steps the organisation takes to prevent bullying and harassment; responsibilities of supervisors and managers; confidentiality for any complainant; reference to grievance procedures (formal and informal), including timescales for action; investigation procedures, including timescales for action; reference to disciplinary procedures, including timescales for action counselling and support availability; training for managers; protection from victimisation; how the policy is to be implemented, reviewed and monitored (ACAS 2007 page not given). Olsen suggests that a workplace bullying programme is not so much about targeting and focusing upon bullies but about creating a culture that makes the actions of bullying and harassment very unwelcome (Olsen 2005, pp. 31).

An important source of information on bullying is the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line set up in 1997. Their website reports that they receive 200-500 visits per day from various countries indicating that workplace bullying is an international phenomenon. Their statistics show that teachers, nurses, social workers and not for profit organisations are the top four sources of reports of bullying and that (a)pprox 6-8% are from the voluntary and non-profit sector, with small charities featuring prominently (UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line a, page not given). Furthermore, they have found that this sector has shown the highest rate of increase in calls since 1998 (UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line a, page not given). They suggest that this is because the serial bully is attracted to this role for the opportunities to abuse power over vulnerable clientsas well as the opportunity to show publicly how caring they are ( UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line b, page not given). They go on to say that (t)his narcissistic urge is common to many serial bullies (especially females) who are oblivious to the discrepancy between how they like to be perceived (as wonderful, kind, caring individuals) and how they are perceived (as aggressive, immature, inadequate and incompetent) (italics in original) (UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line b, page not given)

By far the biggest proportion of bullying relationships (90%) are where a manager is bullying a subordinate (UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line a), although they note that this figure may be inaccurate as they feel that managers may be less likely to report cases where they are being bullied by a subordinate. They also found that females were more likely to report cases of bullying to them than males (75% of the calls were from females). They feel that this is probably because females are a) more willing to admit they are being bullied, and b) more likely to be motivated to do something about it (UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line a, page not given). However, they fail to qualify these statements or provide any evidence that these are the cases. Furthermore, it could be argued that those sectors from which the reports are made are likely to have a higher proportion of female workers.

The UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line found that whilst a fifth of reported cases resulted in the complainant taking legal action, the majority were discouraged from doing so by a lack of support from their trades union or a refusal from their employer to allow them access to their trade union representative. Of those that did result in legal action, only 1% resulted in a successful prosecution (UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line a, page not given).

Olsen suggests several reasons why employers are slow to deal with claims of bullying. These include fear that the lack of definition and ability to asses what is bullying and what is not bullying will give rise to many spurious or malicious complaints; there is a single-bottom-line focus and unless issues are seen to have directly affected profits there is reluctance to address them; generational cycles of high conflict, workplace bullying and harassment have created a culture that seems impossible to change; those in positions of power are afraid because they realise it may mean having to change their own style of management; they simply do not want to understand it and do not want to address it; they turn a blind eye and don’t believe it could be a problem within their organisation; they consider it to be too costly to address properly and do not see these costs as being recoverable (Olsen 2005, pp. 31).

Several writers have commented on the effects of bullying. As previously mentioned, the most common effect is that of stress which provides a recourse for the victim to take legal action under health and safety legislation. The CIPD notes that employee stress within an organisation can damage morale and lead to higher labour turnover, reduced productivity, lower efficiency and divided teams (CIPD 2006a, page not given) and for an individual can lead to illness, absenteeism, less commitment, poor performance and resignation (CIPD 2006a, page not given). Olsen and the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line both highlight the more extreme possibilities of suicide and retribution with the National Workplace Bullying Advice Line reporting cases of these occurring being logged on their website.

Causes of bullying.

To examine the extent of the employers responsibility for stopping bullying, it is necessary to examine the causes of bullying. Olsen (2005) suggests several reasons including the personal need to maintain power over others; the personal need to control people, circumstances or situations; a predatory need to victimise or abuse others; wanting to have fun at someone else’s expense; stress of pressure; the need to maintain a culture and teach or toughen up newcomers (rites of passage, initiation practices); a pathological need to appear superior to others or achieve success at another’s expense (Olsen 2005, pp. 28). She also explains the two extremes of reasons behind bullying as being ’situational’ - due to a particular event or situation - and ‘chronic’ - being within the nature of the bully under all situations (Olsen 2005). The situational bully may respond to being placed under pressure, experiencing personal problems, being threatened by others or having their own self esteem threatened by performing an isolated act of bullying. Olsen (2005) sees this as most common form of bullying and the easiest to manage, saying that these individuals will respond well to correction and training. The UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line (date not given) suggests specific psychological disorders that can account for chronic bullying. These include antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and Munchausen’s Syndrome. Olsen (2005) says that although chronic bullies are less common that situational bullies, they may have greater impact upon people and organisations and be far more difficult, if not impossible, to change (Olsen 2005, pp. 42).

Profit v non profit.

The not for profit organisations are becoming increasing important forms of labour utilisation. Drucker tells us that in the USA, the not for profit sector is the largest employer with over 80 million people working as volunteers (Drucker 2001).

Drucker also tells us that the non profit organization exists to bring about a change in individuals and in society rather than being driven by an end product or service motive (Drucker 1990, pp. 1). Drucker wrote extensively on the subject of not for profit organisations and how they initially failed to embrace the practices of for profit businesses in areas such as management, marketing and planning, seeing them as the domain of ‘businesses’, something they did not want to be associated with. He feels that more recently, the not for profit sector had begun to adopt these skill areas and that there is a ‘management boom’ going on among the non-profit institutions, large and small (Drucker 1990, pp. xv). Drucker feels that this is due at least partly to an awareness by the not for profit sector that they require a robust management system as they lack the discipline of the bottom line (Drucker 2001, pp. 40) meaning that their overall aim of bringing about change in people is difficult to measure and success for them is a nebulous concept. However, he goes on to point out that there are few tools designed particularly for their style of operation ad that little of it pays any attention to the distinct characteristics of the non-profits or to their specific central needs (Drucker 1990, pp. xv).

Brower et al (2000) also noted differences in the way not for profit and for profit businesses operate and concentrated their research on the moral and ethical practices of company boards. Their findings were that, as would probably be expected, the not for profit board members showed higher levels of principles and benevolence, but lower levels of reasoning than their for profit counterparts (Brower et al 2000). These findings support Druckers view that there are significant differences in the cultures of not for profit and for profit organisations.

The majority of employees within a not for profit organisation are volunteers, a situation which, arguably, makes people management more difficult than it is in the for profit sector. Drucker sees the title of ‘volunteer’ as being misleading and uses the term ‘non-paid workers’ in preference (Drucker 1990, pp. 181). This differentiation by name indicates his view as to how workers within not for profit organisations have been viewed and managed versus how they should be, going forward. Drucker points out that not only are these non-paid workers numbers increasing but that they are taking on more leadership roles and that existing models for their management and development should be adapted to allow them to be applied. Whilst Drucker raises the specific issues of their training and development, of more relevance to this paper is the issue of how poor performance is managed. The quandary facing the not for profit sector is that a large proportion of their workforce is unpaid allowing a larger proportion of donations to be channelled to the cause for which they are working. Should the management of this group be carried out as it is in the for profit business, would this lead to a shortage of volunteers and does this mean that these workers should be allowed to act outside the ‘norms’ of employee relations? Drucker gives a specific situation in relation to this question. He suggests that many people who do volunteer work do so because they are lonely, but that sometimes these people for psychological or emotional reasons simply cannot work with other people; they are noisy, intrusive, abrasive, rude (Drucker 1990, pp. 183).

As has been demonstrated, the not for profit and for profit organisations demonstrate areas of similarity and difference. By examining the work of Drucker, it has been shown that there is emphasis on the not for profit sector to adopt the management practices of the for profit sector. The following section will examine more specifically where these differences occur as an introduction to the possible differences in the way they approach the problem of bullying.

Drucker summarises the general recruitment methods of the not for profit sector. He tells us that experienced volunteers are assigned to scan the newcomer (Drucker 2001, pp. 47) and that then senior staffinterview(s) the newcomers to assess their strengths and place them accordingly (Drucker 2001, pp. 47-48). He continues by saying that (v)olunteers may be assigned both a mentor and a supervisor with whom they work out their performance goalsthese advisors are two different people, as a rule, and both, ordinarily, volunteers themselves (Drucker 2001, pp. 48). This reliance on existing volunteers to recruit and train newcomers returns us to the earlier point regarding the pressures on the not for profit sector in ensuring they have a suitable number of people to be able to raise the finances required and that the majority of the monies raised are channelled to the cause itself. The question can be asked as to the amount of training the selectors receive and the criteria that they employ when making selection decisions. The for profit sector, especially in a large business such as that being examined in this paper, would have a dedicated team working on recruitment and employing advanced recruitment methods such as psychometric testing in their process. Whilst they still have the pressures of achieving the bottom line, they are not subject to the scrutiny of outsiders as to how they reinvest their profit into the support areas. This subject received a large degree of publicity a few years ago when questions were raised regarding the percentage of a donation which actually went to the ‘deserving cause’ and how much was spent on administration costs. In 2000, the BBC reported that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) spent a total of 38m on fundraising, administration and campaigning (and) 28m went on children’s services (BBC 2000, page not given). Similarly, the Guardian newspaper in 2005 reported on a donkey charity who, from a total income of 111,665 spent less than $58,000 on the saving of donkeys (Guardian 2005).

The organisation, Charity Facts, suggests that no more than 15% of donations should be spent on administration, but also questions the professionalism of management where less than 5% is spent on administration (Charity Facts website).

The workers in both types of organisation show marked differences as well. The National Workplace Bullying Advice Line cites the NCVO’s Survey of Job Roles and Salaries which found that there are around 130,000 charities and not-for-profit organisations using around 3 million unpaid workers (UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line b). They also found that off these, two thirds are female.

In terms of people management , the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line warns us that responsible charities will have conditions of employment similar to those of any reasonable employer; however, many charities have few or no conditions (UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line b). Volunteers are not protected by employment legislation as paid employees are. The government sponsored website, DirectGov.org recommends the use of a volunteer agreement that helps both the organisation and its volunteers by making expectations clearboth agreements incorporate current thinking on what is good practice in managing volunteers. They also address the unlikely possibility of volunteers being considered employees in the eyes of the law (Direct Gov website, page not given). Their sample volunteer agreement covers equal opportunities but makes no reference to harassment or bullying. Volunteers do have the same rights as paid employees under the Data Protection Act.

B&Q plc. and Cancer Research UK.

B&Q is the leading DIY and garden centre retailer in the UK and Europe and the third largest in the world. Their turnover in 2005 was 3.9 billion and this resulted in a profit of 208.5 million. They employ over 38,000 employees in their 331 UK outlets. They are part of the Kingfisher Group (summarised from B&Q company information).

Cancer Research are the UKs leading cancer research charity, spending 257 million a year on funding research into the disease and increasing public awareness. Their governing structure comprises a chief executive and executive board, a scientific executive board, trustees and members. The trustees advise and support the board in implementing their strategies whilst the members act in a role similar to shareholders with their most important role being the election of trustees (summarised from Cancer Research website). The two main sources of funds for Cancer Research are long term monthly donations from members of the public and the charity shops. Over 1 million people donate monthly to the charity raising over 5 million a month. The 600 shops run by the company and selling both donated goods and new items raised 61.9 million in the financial year 2004/2005. The shops are staffed by around 15,000 voluntary workers, although this figure fluctuates on a constant basis and includes those who volunteer for short periods of time (summarised from Cancer Research website).


The primary research was designed to be able to quantify and qualify the attitudes and actions of the two companies around the subject of bullying.

Face-to-face interviews with representatives from both the personnel and store management functions were used initially as it was thought that the nature of the subject could be seen as being controversial and therefore the expected response rate from a postal or electronic questionnaire would be too low to be able to achieve a worthwhile conclusion.

The writer was able to gain access to representatives from both organisations to conduct these interviews. The questionnaire was based to some degree on the recommendations made by ACAS and CIPD as to what steps employers should take to minimise and deal with incidents of bullying. Further questions were added and both qualitative and quantitative information was gathered. The respondents were briefed beforehand that the survey was a general review of bullying and harassment policies rather than looking at how they viewed their responsibilities as it was felt that this would affect their replies adversely.

Following these interviews it was noted that both organisations had a policy of conducting regular employee attitude surveys and it was felt that reviewing these would be of benefit to the research. However, on closer examination of the survey results, it was found that there was no direct information that was of relevance to this research and they therefore have not been included in this paper.

The third area of research was analysing statistics from the two companies relating to why people left the business, grievances made and any legal action in terms of constructive dismissal or discrimination legislation. It was felt that this information may be able to support the answers received from the interviews in certain areas, but once analysed, proved to be disappointing.

The writer was given access to groups of employees within a working group context to be able to gain an insight into their views on bullying. They were briefed beforehand that they were not expected to talk about specific incidents that had either occurred to them or to their colleagues, but that the purpose was to gain their opinion on the subject.

Several limitation are noted in the methodology. Firstly, as the subject being examined is one with legal and public perception connections, it would be expected that the respondents may give the right answers rather than describe the actual situation. As mentioned, to overcome this, the specific research questions were not raised with the respondents. Despite this it is still possible that model answers were given and the extra action of reviewing company information on leavers, grievances and potential legal cases was designed to lessen this even further. However, it must be noted that duties under the Data Protection Act means that not all information was available.

Secondly, the potentially sensitive nature of the subject made the management of the discussion groups difficult. The aim was to avoid any accusations or hearsay on incidents of alleged bullying and to gain the employees perception of degrees of responsibility between themselves and their organisation. The results have been presented to support this and any references to specific cases, either actual or alleged have been omitted. Results.

Results from personnel representatives. B&Q had a much more robust attitude towards the issue of bullying. Their senior management team had produced a written statement that was included in the company literature. Cancer Research UK had no formal written statement on bullying but the respondent believed them to be fully aware of the possibility of it occurring.

The B&Q policy, which is covered in the induction received by all employees contains specific examples as to what would be considered bullying and states that actions that would be considered bullying are not limited to these examples. Cancer Research believed that using such examples may make it difficult to accuse someone of bullying if their actions were slightly different to the examples. Whilst all new volunteers receive an induction, the personnel policies are not covered in detail.

Both organisations have policies which state that incidents of bullying would be dealt with under the disciplinary procedure. However, they were relatively unaware of the full range of actions that could be considered as bullying and gave a limited number of examples of behaviours concentrating mainly on the more obvious ones.

When asked about the steps they take to prevent bullying, neither organisation referred to actions during recruitment. Both said they conducted staff surveys and would use normal channels of communication to raise awareness and allow the opportunity for people to raise issues. The B&Q approach was much more structured and proactive, utilising other strategies to highlight possible problems such as exit interviews and cases of actual or threatened legal action. The Cancer Research approach was much more reactive, relying on others to raise the issue.

The B&Q managers and supervisors were reported to have a large degree of training and support when dealing with issues such as bullying. The nature of the organisation means that each worksite has its own personnel representative who is on hand to coach and support managers and supervisors. Cancer Research has significantly less resources to be able to offer the same level of support to their managers and supervisors at each individual site central support is available but is under a large degree of work pressure to deal with every request for support. Again, the approach by Cancer Research can be described as being reactive rather than proactive. However, it was at this stage of the research that first mention was made of the difference between employees and volunteers and the Cancer Research representative was clear on the fact that they were under no obligation to utilise a disciplinary process. They also stated that it would often be in the best interests of both parties just to let someone go if there were issues around their actions.

Both representatives believed that a large degree of the responsibility for minimising occurrences of bullying lay with the individual when asked the question specifically. They both felt that it was an action by an individual and that the person must have made the decision to carry out the act themselves. There was degree of expectation around personal behaviour expressed by both respondents, in that bullying would be viewed as socially unacceptable and the Cancer Research representative noted specifically that there would be a contradiction of actions in someone wishing to work voluntarily for a charity and then bully a colleague. Neither recognised the employees legal responsibilities to not bully others. The B&Q representative recognised the relevance of the psychological contract to the management of bullying, but the Cancer Research representative was not familiar with the concept and therefore could not comment on its relevance.

Both representatives thought that there was little they could do proactively to stop bullying occurring and that it was the organisations role to deal with it once it had happened. Both commented that it was important to have the right environment to discourage it although their replies concentrated on awareness and working atmosphere rather than on identifying individuals who may carry out such actions.

The B&Q representative had a much more detailed view of cases of bullying within the business but said that they felt it was not a major problem for them. The Cancer Research representative admitted that they were probably unaware of some cases due to the organisational structure and the high turnover of volunteers.

Both representatives identified that there could be an improvement in their selection processes to try and identify possible bullies before employing them. The B&Q representative was more knowledgeable about procedures such as psychometric testing and the legal problems with references. The Cancer Research representative seemed to have more of a laissez faire attitude, suggesting that the nature of volunteering and the way they utilise them meant that there was little opportunity to conduct more in depth recruitment procedures. The Cancer Research representative also noted that the store managers were probably the most likely population to commit bullying and that many of these had been volunteers for a long time suggesting that they were taken on before the concept of bullying became a concern.

Results from store management representatives.

The store management representative from B&Q supported the personnel representatives statement that there is a clear statement of commitment from senior management that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated. They agreed that it was made clear to all new employees. The Cancer Research store management representative echoed the assumptive view of their personnel representative in that it would be understood that this would be the case.

The B&Q representative agreed that there were examples of what would be considered bullying in the company handbook whilst the Cancer Research representative was not aware of any examples. This is not surprising as the personnel representative had stated that the policies were available for volunteers to examine rather than them being expected to read them it is possible that the store representative had not seen them. This is supported by the answers to the next question where the B&Q store representative was aware that bullying would be dealt with under disciplinary procedures and the Cancer Research store representative assumed they would.

The B&Q store management representative was much more aware of how their organisation acts to prevent bullying and harassment whist the Cancer Research store representative showed a similar view to their personnel representative in that they thought it unlikely that someone who was prepared to volunteer to help others would bully their colleagues. This dichotomy was repeated when asked about the specific responsibilities of supervisors and managers in terms of identifying and managing bullying and how are these communicated to them.

When asked what action they would take if there was an accusation of bullying, as would be expected the B&Q store representative was able to give a much more detailed and substantial answer. They mentioned the role of the personnel representative in providing them with guidance and support. The reply from the Cancer Research representative showed a more individual approach suggesting that they would take it on themselves to make a decision.

When asked how much it was the employees responsibility to not bully others, the B&Q store representative seemed to have a much more practical view. They pointed out that whilst you should be able to expect certain levels of behaviour from people in society, there were many instances where these were not upheld and they saw it as being the same in an work environment with a certain expectation of employees but the need for the business to manage incidents where standards of behaviour were not upheld. The Cancer Research store representative gave an idealistic reply by suggesting that if someone had the desire to give their time voluntarily to help others less fortunate than themselves, they would be unlikely to then commit acts of bullying of other volunteers. Both believed the employees should be responsible for creating a positive working environment.

Both store representatives saw little responsibility for the employer to stop bullying other than deal with it if it occurred.

Neither store representative was aware of any actual cases of bullying or alleged bullying having occurred in their businesses.

Both store representatives thought there were no further actions that could be taken at the recruitment stage to lessen the potential for bullies to be in their organisations.

Analysis of exit interviews, grievances and legal action.

The results of the secondary research were disappointing . Although B&Q had maintained good records in these areas, Cancer Research was less likely to have the information due to the nature of employment of their volunteers. Initially, neither sets of information added significantly to the research. On reflection, however, it became apparent that this supported the findings of the literature review that victims of bullying are unlikely to report it to their employers.

Results from employee working groups.

The employees seemed to have a good understanding of the concept of bullying and both groups were of the opinion that it is a regular occurrence within workplaces. The Cancer Research group believed that it was more likely to occur in businesses with paid employees as in the volunteer status they believed people would find it easier to leave if they had any issues with their work or relationships with others.

The B&Q group identified the difficulties in determining what exactly constitutes bullying and were aware that certain workplace practices that most would take for granted as the culture or the ‘way things are done’ in that particular place, could be seen as bullying to someone.

Both groups felt that a large degree of responsibility rested with the employees to not bully others in the first place. The Cancer Research group were more likely to take some action themselves against someone who was bullying another person, the B&Q group did not mention this option.

When asked about the employers responsibility with regard to bullying, the B&Q employee group mentioned the fact that the majority of cases of bullying were by managers towards subordinates, this had been mentioned by the representative from Cancer Research but was not emphasised as being an important point. The B&Q working group felt that the organisation was responsible for creating the right management style that would not include elements of bullying as a way of getting work done. They felt that the organisations second area of responsibility was to deal with any reports of bullying by removing the individual from employment as they felt that lower levels of discipline allowing the individuals to remain would result in them reoffending.

The Cancer Research group identified the employers responsibilities in a similar way commenting on the organisations role in determining the working environment, they also noted that the majority of cases of bullying were by a manager to a subordinate. Discussion.

The results of the questionnaires show a definite difference as to the way a for profit and not for profit organisation view the issues surrounding bullying and their responsibilities in terms of managing it. The for profit representatives were much more aware and proactive around the issue and had policies and procedures in place both to prevent and deal with any incidents. The not for profit organisation indicated a lack of awareness of the potential for problems that seemed to result from their perception of the nature of their business. The for profit business viewed bullying as a distinct possibility and were aware of their responsibilities. The not for profit organisation showed a less business-like approach, seeing the fact that their volunteers were seeking to assist others and giving their time freely as a contraindication of the likelihood of bullying being a possibility.

Whilst both organisations general view was that it was the employees individual responsibility to treat their colleagues with respect, the for profit business showed a much more robust system of making sure employees were aware that it was unacceptable behaviour and for dealing with it if it did occur. Neither organisation identified significant improvements they as businesses could make on being more proactive in stopping the problem occurring and this could be due largely to the fact that neither business reported it as being a major issue.

A conclusion from this could be proposed as being that the organisations were unaware of the degree of bullying that takes place in their business. The literature review indicated that bullying is a difficult concept to define and highlights that what one person may consider as bullying, another would not. The representatives from neither organisation were able to provide a full description of what types of behaviour would be considered to be bullying although the personnel representative from the for profit business had the most detailed understanding and this would be expected due to the nature of their role. It is possible therefore that incidents of bullying are more numerous in both organisations than they realise and this would limit the degree of action they could take to control the occurrence. Although both organisations indicated that bullying would be dealt with under their disciplinary policy, neither indicted an understanding of the legal aspects. This again indicates a lack of awareness of the concept of bullying and may be a reason why they felt there was little more they could do as an employer about the problem than the steps they were already taking.

The literature review indicated that the incidence of bullying is higher in the not for profit sector than the for profit sector. This makes the research results more disappointing as the not for profit sample showed less awareness of and procedures for the management of bullying. Whilst both organisations felt a large degree of the responsibility for managing bullying came from the employee themselves, the not for profit respondents indicated this to a higher degree than the for profit representatives, citing that they felt that the nature of volunteering would not attract the type of person who would bully. This is in direct contradiction of the findings of the literature review which found that serial bullies, in particular, are attracted to work in the volunteer sector.

Whilst the for profit company had a grievance procedure in place which could be used for employees to report incidents of bullying, they felt that employees would be able to speak with their manager in the first case if they had any complaints. The not for profit representatives gave raising it with the manager as the main course of action for an employee who was being bullied. Whilst the for profit business showed a greater awareness of the issue of bullying, both organisations placed more emphasis on the management of bullying as being an individual responsibility of their employees i.e. they saw it as a concept that is unacceptable within society and therefore unacceptable in the workplace. Processes were in place to deal with managing the issue but although noticeably less existed in the not for profit organisation, neither business showed a proactive approach of seeking out bullying, the processes designed more as a reactive response should it occur.

A major conclusion which can be drawn from this research is the findings from the employee working groups when compared the comments of the personnel and store management representatives. The personnel and store management representatives approached the issue of bullying as a problem that occurs between employees whereas the employee working groups highlighted the fact, as was found in the literature review, that majority of incidents of bullying are cases where a manager has bullied a subordinate. It was employee working groups who suggested that the employers responsibilities lay not only with dealing with cases of bullying, but also around the way the culture or working environment were, an area which they saw as being wholly in the domain of the employer. Furthermore, if the emphasis on the prevention and management of bullying by both organisations management teams concentrates on colleague to colleague bullying, the steps that they currently take would be insufficient to dissuade manager to subordinate instances as the emphasis is on the managers themselves to deal with and report instances. Similarly, the lack of actions to identify potential bullies at the selection stage, particularly by Cancer Research, again indicates a reactive rather than proactive approach to the problem.


The literature review found that there is a high level of bullying within businesses reported through independent help lines and that there is a reluctance from those subjected to bullying to report these cases to their employer. The reasons for this were seen to be a lack of support from the employer which the victims feel may lead to the problem becoming worse rather than being solved. Linked to this is are the difficulties in defining bullying a such as what it is the personal perception of the person on the receiving end as to whether the actions against them could be classed as bullying. The legal situation does not help the victim as there is no direct recourse in law as there is in cases of discrimination.

It was also found that whilst not for profit organisations are being encouraged to adopt many of the practices of the for profit sector, this does not filter down to the area of bullying and harassment.

The businesses studied show a general view that the issues of bullying is the responsibility of the individual as it is classed as an antisocial action and that their responsibilities as employers - be it of paid or unpaid staff - centre around the dealing of it when it has happened without necessarily encouraging or facilitating the reporting of it. Similarities can be drawn with the application of a legal system, that is, tell people not to do it and punish them if they do it. This leads to an apparent underestimation by both organisations as to the occurrence of bullying in their businesses. The employers also showed a lack of awareness of the role of management in bullying itself. The employee groups were aware of this and it was found in the literature review that this is the most common form of bullying. Unless businesses can ensure they create a climate or culture in which the management demonstrate to their employees that bullying is not acceptable, they will not become aware of the high level of bullying that exists or be able to deal with it effectively.

Actions would be required by both organisations to be more proactive in their management of the bullying issues. They currently fail to recognise their responsibilities in preventing its occurrence, an area in which they could take more actions. Both organisations, but particularly the not for profit example, should develop more robust selection procedures to identify potential bullies during recruitment. More actions and awareness are also required in the development of the organisational culture and management style to realise and accept that these aspects of the business can support the occurrence of bullying. Neither business seemed aware of the importance of these ands whilst the not for profit business may have a disadvantage in the nature of the business and lack the financial resources to be able to invest in doing this, they should not be able to use the volunteer status of the majority of their workers as an excuse. The for profit business can have not explanation for their lack of action other than a failure to recognise the nature and causes of bullying. Unless the employers in both cases accept their responsibilities for the issue of workplace bullying, it will remain a characteristic of businesses and continue to have a detrimental effect on their operations be it in terms of profit or their ability to bring about a change in people.

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Appendix 1: Questionnaire - personnel representatives

Do you have a statement of commitment from senior management regarding bullying or a clear statement that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated?

B&Q Ltd.

Yes, this was produced some time ago - about 3 years. There was a specific action to include this in the company literature. It states that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated at any level.

Cancer Research UK

Our senior management team are aware of the possibilities for bullying and/or harassment for our volunteers and would not tolerate it. There is no formal written statement regarding this.

Do you have examples of unacceptable behaviour to illustrate what constitutes bullying and are these communicated to those who work for you?

B&Q Ltd.

Yes, in our personnel policy on bullying and harassment, there is a full description of the types of behaviour that would be considered to be unacceptable. All employees receive an induction which covers the policy.

Cancer Research UK

We believe that this would be too limiting and that it would limit us in being able to take action should an incident occur that was not covered in the examples. We have a policy that states that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated. All our volunteers have access to this document.

What type of behaviours would you constitute as being bullying?

B&Q Ltd.

Our policy gives the examples of personal insults, constant, unsupported criticism, ridiculing in public or face-to-face, aggression, swearingthings like that

Cancer Research UK

Picking on someone, being rude, discriminating against someone.

Does your policy state that bullying and harassment may be treated as disciplinary offences?

B&Q Ltd.

Yes, in our personnel policy on bullying and harassment the actions that the company may take in reply to incidents are set out and are the same as the disciplinary procedure.

Cancer Research UK

Yes, we state this categorically.

What steps does the organisation take to prevent bullying and harassment?

B&Q Ltd.

As well as having a written statement and a policy which is included in induction, we arrange regular awareness training for managers and supervisors. We also conduct regular staff attitude surveys in which they are asked whether they have been bullied. We monitor our leavers and conduct exit interviews too which include a question on whether they feel they have been subjected to bullying and we report to the board of director on any actual or threatened legal action. Actions related to accusations of bullying would be included in this.

Cancer Research UK

We have a specific policy on bullying and harassment and would encourage individuals to report any cases. We have a regular survey of our volunteers where they are asked about their working relationships with their colleagues and believe any incidents of bullying would be highlighted in these. We have regular meetings with shop managers in which we would raise any issues we felt were important such as bullying.

What are the specific responsibilities of supervisors and managers in terms of identifying and managing bullying and how are these communicated to them?

B&Q Ltd.

As I said, all our manager undergo regular awareness sessions on issues including bullying. They all undergo a management or supervisory training programme which covers all aspects of their work including their responsibilities in managing their staff. If any issues occurred we would conduct further training and awareness sessions with all individuals. If a manager was aware of a case of bullying through their own observation or by having it reported to them, they would consult with their personnel manager who would guide the through the appropriate course of action.

Cancer Research UK

This would be considered to be a basic part of their job description in terms of managing others and would be in their job description. It would also be covered in their annual review. They would be expected to deal with issues relating to bullying as per the policy.

What actions does your organisation take to encourage employees to report incidents where they feel they have been bullied?

B&Q Ltd.

Employees have the grievance procedure they can use to report this but we would feel that the relationship we have with our employees would mean that they would feel comfortable in discussing any concerns they have with their manager in the first place.

Cancer Research UK

The store managers have a good relationships with their teams and would listen to any concerns they had.

What are your investigation procedures?

B&Q Ltd.

If an individual is accused of bullying, an investigation would take place to determine if the accusation was valid. If it was thought that there were sufficient grounds, the individual would usually be suspended on full pay pending a disciplinary investigation. This investigation would examine the evidence and statement from the victim and alleged bully plus any witnesses. The likelihood of the accusation being valid would be assessed and appropriate action taken. Depending on the circumstances, nature of the bullying and any previous incidents, this could range form a verbal warning to dismissal without notice.

Cancer Research UK

Both the alleged victim and bully would be questioned along with any other relevant parties. If it was deemed that bullying had taken place or may have taken place the volunteer accused of the action may be told that their services are no longer required. As we are talking about volunteers, you have to remember that we do not have any requirement to use a disciplinary procedure as a business would. We would fine it much easier for both parties just to let someone go if we felt there were any issues.

How much responsibility do you feel lies with your employees to minimise occurrences of bullying?

B&Q Ltd.

I would say that it in the most part up to them. It is their actions after all and they should be able to treat others with dignity and respect. Having said that, if that was the case we wouldn’t need any kind of policies or disciplinary procedures or even performance reviews come to that as everyone would be doing the best they could. I would say it’s a lot up to the person though, you must be able to expect employees not to bully each other.

Cancer Research UK

It has to be said that it is totally up to them. We don’t do anything that would lead someone to become a bully so if they decide to do it, it must be their own decision and we can’t do much about it until it has actually happened.

What do you feel their responsibilities are?

B&Q Ltd.

To treat their co-workers with the same respect they would show other members of their community. And to report anything they see or hear that someone else is doing.

Cancer Research UK

Not to bully their colleagues. We are all working towards a common good here and people undertake volunteer work to make the world a better place. Surely they realise that bullying someone is counter to this desire.

How much responsibility do you feel lies with the employer to minimise occurrences of bullying?

B&Q Ltd.

Well, there is a role for the employer obviously. Generally it would be around dealing with any incidents, making sure everyone knows it is not acceptablethings like that. How much direct responsibility in stopping it in the first place? Well, there’s not that much we can do. How would we know someone is thinking of doing it?

Cancer Research UK

If you can get through to people the purpose of their work and give them a happy place to work in then surely they would be less likely to do anything like that (bullying). But you never know, sometimes it’s the last person you would expect. I guess our main responsibility is to do something once it has happened.

What do you feel their responsibilities are?

B&Q Ltd.

Dealing with it when it is suspected to have happened, let people know it won’t be tolerated. Train managers to deal with it - that kind of thing.

Cancer Research UK

Keep the workplace happy

Do you feel that minimising the occurrence of bullying forms part of the psychological contract between yourselves and your employees?

B&Q Ltd.

Yes, I suppose it does. It would fit into the category I suppose of ensuring they do not experience it, but it is easier said than done.

Cancer Research UK

I am not aware of that phrase.

Are bullying and harassment are problems for your organisation?

B&Q Ltd.

There have been some issues which we have dealt with. I don’t think generally that it is a major issue for us. There are more urgent concerns such as discrimination that we spend more time trying to ensure it doesn’t happen.

Cancer Research UK

I would be lying if I said it didn’t happen and we are probably not aware of all cases. The nature of the organisation means that we have shops with managers who have their own teams of people who come and go on a fairly regular basis. I cannot say for certain that we don’t lose volunteers because of the way they have been treated by colleagues and some of these situations may have been seen as being bullying.

What further actions could your organisation take at the recruitment stage to minimise the occurrence of bullying?

B&Q Ltd.

There is a lot more we would like to be able to do, certainly in recruitment to ensure we didn’t employ people with a tendency towards bullying in the first place. We currently use psychometric testing to get a profile of the candidates but none of the tests available would look specifically at this area. We also follow up references but with the legal issues around giving a poor reference and the difficulties in proving cases of bullying, we are aware that a previous employer might be unwilling to suggest a former employee had been accused of such action.

Cancer Research UK

We do have some work to do on how we vet volunteers. It would be wrong of me to say that the store managers are thorough as we can use all the volunteers we can get and therefore there is not a strict process to go through. I guess we feel that the work environment they are in means that we look at the positives of everyone and that we feel there is little opportunity for them to have any difficulties, but having said that, it would probably be the store managers themselves who would be most likely to bully someone, I suppose. These people have generally been with us a long time.

Appendix 2: Questionnaire - store management representatives

Do you have a statement of commitment from senior management regarding bullying or a clear statement that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated?

B&Q Ltd.

Yes, I know that this is included in the general company information issued to us and all new employees.

Cancer Research UK

I don’t know about this being a specific thing but I would guess that everyone would know that bullying would not be tolerated.

Do you have examples of unacceptable behaviour to illustrate what constitutes bullying and are these communicated those who work for you?

B&Q Ltd.

In the policy manual there are examples for all the policies on what constitutes actions that would be dealt with under disciplinary procedures.

Cancer Research UK

No, I haven’t seen anything like that.

What type of behaviours would you constitute as being bullying?

B&Q Ltd.

Well it’s difficult to say as it is different for different people.
Shouting and swearing are the main ones.

Cancer Research UK

Oh, I don’t know..shouting and swearing ?

Does your policy state that bullying and harassment may be treated as disciplinary offences?

B&Q Ltd.


Cancer Research UK

I haven’t read the policy but it would be wouldn’t it.

What steps does the organisation take to prevent bullying and harassment?

B&Q Ltd.

We are all made aware that bullying and harassment are not tolerated. There are regular briefings and training sessions that managers and supervisors attend on these subjects. We know that these are illegal in the workplace and know what we should do if we think or are told it is happening.

Cancer Research UK

They would deal with any accusations. I am not sure about stopping it happen in the first place. You wouldn’t expect that sort of behaviour from people who have volunteered to help others would you.

What are the specific responsibilities of supervisors and managers in terms of identifying and managing bullying and how are these communicated to them?

B&Q Ltd.

We receive management training on a regular basis that would cover this. We are responsible for the complete management of our teams in terms of their work, attitude and behaviour. If we thought bullying was happening or someone reported it to us we would deal with it with support form our personnel representative.

Cancer Research UK

Well, it would be part of the general duties to ensure the welfare of volunteers.

What actions does your organisation take to encourage employees to report incidents where they feel they have been bullied?

B&Q Ltd.

They can talk to us about it at any time and there is a grievance procedure if they wanted to make a formal complaint.

Cancer Research UK

They would tell the store manager.

What are your investigation procedures?

B&Q Ltd.

These would be the same as with any incident that could lead to disciplinary action with parties being questioned. I would seek advice from my personnel representative on the exact steps to be taken.

Cancer Research UK

I would ask both of them for their view of what had happened and then decide what action to take.

How much responsibility do you feel lies with your employees to minimise occurrences of bullying?

B&Q Ltd.

That’s difficult to say. You could see it as an individual thing about respecting each other as you would outside work, but obviously that’s not the case either as you read about what people do in society, so why would they be different in work? I would say that as in normal life you should be able to expect people to behave well but if they don’t someone has to step in and deal with it.

Cancer Research UK

The kind of people who volunteer to work in an organisation are unlikely to be the type who would then make someone else unhappy, surely.

What do you feel their responsibilities are?

B&Q Ltd.

To treat each other well and get on as much as possible.

Cancer Research UK

Not to be a bully, to be friendly and helpful to each other and customers.

How much responsibility do you feel lies with the employer to minimise occurrences of bullying?

B&Q Ltd.

It is very much a policing role.dealing with incidents where it has occurred. There is not much they can do to stop it other than say it is unacceptable and then sort it out if it happens by probably removing the person who does it.

Cancer Research UK

If it did happen, I don’t think it is really the fault of the employer. How can you tell if someone is going to do that sort of thing? They would need to stop it happening again by letting the person go.

What do you feel their responsibilities are?

B&Q Ltd.

Using the disciplinary procedure on anyone who bullies.

Cancer Research UK

If someone is suspected of bullying they should be told they are no longer required.

Are bullying and harassment are problems for your organisation?

B&Q Ltd.

No, I wouldn’t have thought so. I don’t know of any myself. There are some instances of people getting annoyed with each other, but I don’t know of any official complaints of bullying being made.

Cancer Research UK

No not really. Some people don’t get on but that happens everywhere. I haven’t heard of any actual bullying.

What further actions could your organisation take at the recruitment stage to minimise the occurrence of bullying?

B&Q Ltd.

We have quite a drawn out recruitment process in place already. As I don’t know of any cases, I would guess we are doing all we can at the moment.

Cancer Research UK

We don’t really recruit as such. If people want to volunteer we make a judgement about them. It’s not like a business here with all that fuss over taking someone on.

Appendix 3: Results of exit interviews, grievances and legal action.

Exit interview.


In the present year, there were 56 exit interviews available for examination. Of these, only 7 (12.5%) indicated that the individual had experienced dissatisfaction with the relationships they had with either a colleague or their manager. From the design of the exit interview it was not possible to determine the exact nature of this dissatisfaction.

Cancer Research

Only 2 exit interviews were available for analysis as it is not common practice for them to be completed for volunteers. Neither indicated any issues relating to bullying.



There had been 78 formal grievances registered in the previous year. Of these, 50 (65%) related to differences between individuals. In none of these was bullying mentioned specifically, with comments and notes tending to suggest that the complainant was not happy with the way they had been dealt with or spoken to.

Cancer Research

No grievance records were available to analyse.

Legal action


No evidence was found that suggested that the company had been involved in or threatened with legal action relating to bullying or harassment.

Cancer Research

No evidence was found that suggested that the company had been involved in or threatened with legal action relating to bullying or harassment.

Appendix 4: notes from employees working group.

Are you aware of what bullying is?

The majority of the groups stated that they were but to ensure a full understanding the definition of bullying as set out in the literature review was given to both groups.

Do you believe that bullying is a regular workplace occurrence within organisations generally?

B&Q group - generally believed that it occurred and on a regular basis. They cited several examples which have been omitted under Data Protection requirements. They discussed the different forms of bullying and raised the point that it is a case of individual perception as to what could be considered bullying and what was ‘winding people up’. They discussed how someone could take a comment the wrong way even though it was a normal thing to say and included examples such as comments on work rate, personal appearance and relationships with other colleagues.

Cancer Research - generally agreed that it is a regular occurrence with workplaces. On probing they thought that it could occur in an organisation such as their own but was less likely due to the fact they were volunteers. They believed that an individual who did not like the working environment for any reason would leave before it became a bullying issue. They felt that employees within businesses would be more likely to experience it as they would find it less easy just to leave.

What responsibility do you feel you have with regard to bullying?

B&Q - the group generally agreed that employees should have a moral duty not to bully others. They felt it was antisocial and led to a bad working environment for all employees. They also agreed that they would be responsible for reporting any incidents they had witnessed.

Cancer Research - the group said that there was a significant degree of responsibility on employees to ensure bullying does not occur and that this would be the expectation of any group of individuals in a work or other environments. They felt the same was true in terms of reporting anything they were aware of happening to others, but also commented that they would be likely to step in and say something to the bully themselves before reporting it to higher authorities.

What responsibility do you feel that employers have with regard to bullying?

B&Q -

In an ideal world, people would be equal in rights, opportunities, and responsibilities, despite their race or gender. In the world we live in, however, we constantly face all kinds of neglect based on different attributes. All over the world, certain people treat others with prejudice because of particular features they possess. Unfortunately, this happens even in places which, by definition, should be free of all personal prejudices—specifically, in offices and other business surroundings. This phenomenon is called workplace discrimination; not every unfair behavior at work, however, can be assessed as discrimination. 

What exactly is workplace discrimination? It can be defined as a less favorable treatment towards an individual or a group of individuals at work, usually based on their nationality, skin color, sex, marital status, age, trade union activity, or other defining attributes (Australian Human Rights Commission). It can appear as a denial of certain rights, negligent treatment, intentional underestimating of a worker’s personality or work results and achievements, and so on. A person can be discriminated by their employers, or by their coworkers as well. Discrimination can result into severe psychological consequences for the victim, such as emotional stress and anxiety. Discrimination often causes an employee to leave the workplace, resign from a position, or in severe cases, to commit suicide, or act violently against the discriminators.

Workplace discrimination can take more open and threatening forms, which are known as workplace harassment. It occurs when an employee is made to feel intimidated, insulted, or humiliated, based on such features as race, ethnic origin, gender, physical or mental disability, or on any other characteristic specified under legislation (AHRC). The two most radical forms of workplace harassment are the application of physical violence or sexual harassment—women are especially exposed to this kind of discrimination. Workplace violence can take several forms: the direct exercise of physical force against a worker which causes or could cause injuries to the worker; an attempt to exercise physical force; or a statement or behavior which a worker can reasonably interpret as a threat to exercise physical force (Ontario Ministry of Labor). Sexual harassment can take the form of obscene jokes and allusions; intrusive body contact; inappropriate gestures, or even direct actions aimed at sexual contact.

There are several ways to deal with workplace discrimination; such measures can be held both on the individual and on the collective level. Individuals who have experienced discrimination or harassment at work are recommended to stand firm under verbal attacks, remain confident about their own abilities and judgments, and try not to stay alone with the abusive person (UnionSafe). At the same time, collective measures can be taken as well. They usually include calling for a meeting in a quiet, confidential place in order to admit and discuss the problem; complaining to competent authorities; developing respective policies together with sanctions applied in case there is an infringement enacted by workers.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world, and not all people can enjoy equal opportunities and rights. This refers not only to our personal lives, but to our working environment as well; employees can be discriminated and abused because of certain features they possess, such as the color of skin, their ethnicity or gender, age, marital status, disabilities, and so on. To eliminate workplace discrimination, both individual and collective preventive measures should be made.


“What is Workplace Discrimination and Harassment?” Australian Human Rights Commission. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 July 2013. <http://www.humanrights.gov.au/what-workplace-discrimination-and-harassment>.

“Preventing Workplace Violence and Workplace Harassment.” Ontario Ministry of Labor. N.p., July 2011. Web. 05 July 2013. <http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/sawo/pubs/fs_workplaceviolence.php>.

“Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace.” UnionSafe. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 July 2013. <http://unionsafe.labor.net.au/hazards/10717236108849.html>.

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