Philip Landau, employment lawyer at Landau Law Solicitors, spoke to TCH about supporting employees with mental health in a high pressure work environment and challenging workplace bullying with actionable strategies.
As someone who frequently sees the consequences of serious workplace bullying, its continued prevalence and links to mental health do not shock me. It doesn’t take an employment lawyer to tell you that workplace bullying creates a lose-lose situation for both the employee and the business. Bullying a person who has a mental condition is just as bad as creating a mental health condition where one did not exist beforehand.
But what actually is “bullying”? It is almost universally considered to be offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour which undermines, humiliates or denigrates the victim. Workplace bullying often involves being excluded from meetings, email chains and office social events, being blocked for promotion or having responsibilities taken away. It can also include unwarranted poor performance reviews and criticism, verbal abuse and spreading gossip and rumours.
There is no specific claim that can be made for bullying in the employment tribunal, however it is possible to make a claim for constructive dismissal if you have 2 years service based on a breakdown of trust and confidence leading to a resignation.
Furthermore, many employees with mental health problems will be legally classed as having a disability and may be able to make discrimination or harassment claims if bullying is related to, or exacerbates an existing mental health condition. This is particularly if the employer was aware of the condition and has failed to support the employee.
Of course, prevention is always preferable. Perhaps what saddens me most when I deal with cases involving workplace bullying and mental health problems is that often the problem could have been tackled early on, minimising the overall harm to the employee. Many individuals are reluctant to rock the boat and only take steps to address the issue when matters are almost at breaking point.
Just a few of the many strategies businesses can employ to fulfil their legal duties to employees are:
- Providing all managers with regular stress and mental health training
- Offering and (perhaps more importantly) publicising confidential employee advice services and a range of ways for employees to report bullying
- Having a clear anti-bullying policy including a range of examples of behaviours that will be treated as bullying, and adopting a zero-tolerance approach.
Putting the appropriate mechanisms in place can be so important to ensure that employees can genuinely feel supported.
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