A Reminder of what Workplace Bullying is.

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A Reminder of what Workplace Bullying is. Tim Field in his book Bully In Sight says that “after a victim has been bullied out of their job, the pain and separation that the victim experiences is similar to that felt following the death of a loved one. This is especially so if a) it is a position one has occupied for a long time, b) it is a job one loves and has made a success of, c) the job involves working with people (adults or children, especially the disadvantaged) and d) termination  is through dismissal enacted or contrived through bullying behaviour.”Some might find it offensive to equate loss of life with loss  of job, for one is replaceable, the other is clearly not. However, relative merit is not the issue – it is the effect that loss and severance has on the psyche which is the same……” “Victims of bullying often find that because they are ousted in unacceptable circumstances and through dubious practices, they don’t have the opportunity to say goodbye to their friends and colleagues; they are denied the opportunity to put their affairs in order, tie up loose ends and complete tasks in hand, designate successors and beneficiaries and collect their belongings.” This I concur. I worked with children, frequently disadvantaged children as well as adults and loved my career of 25 years. Although I was not dismissed, the false allegations made against me, damaging my reputation and future career prospects and the refusal of anyone to do anything about the perpetrators forced me to take early retirement. I know what it is like to grieve for a close relative who has passed away, and the pain and suffering due to the separation I was feeling from my career was similar. Reading this book helped me through this grieving process because I came to realize that my feelings were normal. I thought I must be crazy not being able to return to the place of work where I put in on average 55 hours a week. I left my belongings such as my own printer that I was using, electronic photograph album etc. I was unable to tidy up loose ends as Tim Field describes. Two years later I still cannot bring myself to drive past the building. From someone who has a very strong character, I couldn’t understand my feelings. Tim Field describes this as quite normal. We are lagging  behind America, Canada, Europe and Australia in terms of protecting our workers in the workplace. Its time the Trade Union Congress spoke up as well as the public and MP’s in order to stop this abhorrent practice. How come other continents recognize the serious harm of workplace bullying but the UK doesn’t. After all, evidence shows that it is rife in our workplaces. (see previous blogs) As Tim Field wrote on page 50, “ Statements such as ‘Why didn’t we tackle this before?’ will be familiar to those who have conquered denial in previous causes. Rape, discrimination, sexual harassment, child abuse, now workplace bullying – it’s as if society is picking off and ticking off these violational abuses one by one; perhaps the next millennium will be one of enlightened and pleasurable existence after all. In the meantime there is much to do and we must not be complacent.” We are 14 years into the next millennium and nothing is being done. Please speak up and say whether you think we should follow in other countries and continents examples by making workplace bullying illegal. Support the campaign to Introduce Legislation to protect Workers and our Economy against Workplace Bullying.


2004 Voluntary Project to Combat Workplace Bullying in UK. 10 Years Later – FAILED. Now is the time to bring in UK Legislation to Protect our Workers as in other Countries.

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Valerie Davey MP. (Lab) for Bristol West stated in 2004

“The need for the Government to be more proactive in promoting and ensuring dignity at work for all employees at every level has been reiterated from the back benches of this Chamber and the House of Lords since at least 1996……

All Members of Parliament must know through their surgeries of cases of constituents experiencing bullying at work and being unable to voice that experience and seek a resolution. When we first heard about those often desperate cases most of us were unaware of the scale of the problem….

Subsequent evidence from trade Unions confirmed that despite years of campaigning against bullying, it remains a persistent and extensive problem.”

Valerie Davey  MP went on to describe a new project that was being launched.

“The project has been launched to provide supportive advice and training to organisations that are trying to tackle bullying, train employees as counsellors, devise and promote a voluntary charter on dignity at work, promote examples of excellent employers in the UK and produce a benchmark that enables organisations to measure their success in achieving dignity at work and a “ban the bullying” pack.”

She went on to say “ I remind the Government that other European countries have followed the legislative route and I hope the work (Project)  will be compared with the work in other countries.”

Ms Davey MP hoped that the project would be enough to stamp out bullying in the workplace and therefore no need to bring in legislation. However she went on to say that if the project was not successful that Ministers would then reconsider and bring in legislation.

“-and with assurance –from the Minister that the project will be monitored and that should  good practice not prove as infectious as we all hope, the Government will reconsider the possibility of legislation and revisit the new clause or a similar provision later”

That was back in March 2004.

Ten years later the project I argue has not been successful. Surely 10 years is long enough to test out a project. Was there any monitoring? Are there any reports regarding any monitoring? I think the following links to newspaper articles over recent years reporting on workplace bullying is enough to show that ‘the project has not been successful and therefore legislation needs to be brought in, in line with other countries.
















These are just a small percentage of articles I have collected from newspapers which I believe shows that the Project referred to  by Valerie Davey has not been successful.

It also must be recognised that the articles are referring to large Public Sector organisations which attracts media attention. We must not forget  the millions of workers employed in small businesses who equally suffer psychological trauma by workplace bullies but do not attract media attention.

Surely after 10 years, MP’s need to start acting again in order to bring in legislation, in line with other countries, to protect our workers and economy from the insidious  bullying that is taking place every day in organisations up and down this country.

Tell us about your experiences and opinions. Do you think the UK has a problem with Workplace Bullying? Do you think that there should be legislation to protect our workers?

Support the Campaign To Introduce Legislation To Protect Workers and our Economy Against Workplace Bullying


Swedish Legislation to Protect Workers against Workplace Bullying.

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“The anti-bullying movement began in Sweden. In the 1980’s, ex-patriat German Heinz Leymann (1932-1999), psychologist and doctor of medical science, studied worker trauma. He established a unique clinic at Violen for individuals traumatized by the workplace. His scientific articles linking mobbing (bullying) to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder were published from 1990 to 1999. He wrote books and became a staunch advocate to stop bullying at work. Excerpt taken from The Workplace Bullying Institute     http://www.workplacebullying.org/the-movement/

The following is an excerpt taken from 2013 JILPT Seminar on Workplace Bullying and Harassment http://www.jil.go.jp/english/reports/documents/jilpt-reports/no.12.pdf

Leymann (1990) defined mobbing as hostile and unethical communication which is directed in a systematic way by one or a number of persons, mainly towards one individual. These actions often take place (almost every day) over a long period (at least for six months) and because of this frequency and duration, result in considerable psychic, psychosomatic and social misery (1990). Such hostile and unethical activities repeated frequently over long periods of time can change the climate of the workplace and stigmatize the exposed individual. The bullying is legitimized when workplace management accepts and adopts prejudices concerning the stigmatized person. Bullying implies an imbalance in the power between the bullied victim and the bully.” (Thylefors 1999)

“The process of bullying can be described as developing through slander, deceit, insults, injustice, or special treatment. Its purpose is to alienate the bullied individual from the community at work, and finally from the workplace itself. Bullying appears to be to an attempt solve problems at the workplace, but these continue in other forms and involve other people after the bullied individual has been expelled.” Strandmark & Hallberg 2007b.

Hallberg & Strandmark (2006) explored the health consequences of workplace Bullying. Adult bullying is perceived by its victims as a severe psychological trauma or a traumatic life event. Sub categories included  1) feeling guilt, shame and diminishing self-esteem, 2) developing symptoms and reactions, 3) getting limited space for action, 4) working through the course of events, and 5) trying to obtain redress. Bullying included the spreading of rumours and repeated insults aimed at changing the image of the bullied person negatively, resulting in feelings of guilt, shame and diminishing self-esteem in the exposed person. Physical and psychosomatic symptoms gradually emerged ( developing symptoms and reactions ) and medical treatment often follow. The longer the bullying continued, the more limited became the possibility to change the situation ( getting limited space for action ), such as changing the workplace. Returning to a normal life might be possible, but presupposed the process of working through the course of events related to the bullying. This process was often painful, as events from bullying are re-lived over and over again, both in dreams and when awake. The bullied person was also trying to obtain redress through such means as monetary compensation, professional confirmation, or by gaining a new meaning in life.

Despite this, bullying left an internal scar or vulnerability they never entirely heal; the bullied person remains marked for life. The following excerpt from the interviews illustrates the core category:

 No, I will never forget the bullying, never ever. There is still a large scar left inside me. I always have to carry this scar with me . . . . and I have never managed to understand the bullies, either. That was an episode that now has passed away and now I have to continue living my life. But I think it would have been much easier to live my life without this scar inside. . . . that is what I think . . . . definitely. When I, for example, read in the paper about someone being bullied somewhere, the old scar reopens and it hurts. In some way I must try to repress it all the time . . . . if it is possible.

The Swedish Work Environment Act (SFS: 2008) states the grounds for a good work environment. The purpose of this act is to prevent ill-health and accidents at work and generally promote a positive atmosphere environment. The law says that work circumstances shall be adjusted to human beings different prerequisites taking into account physical and psychological considerations. It should strive to enable variation, social contact, and collaboration, and connection between individual work tasks. Another basic law that opposes bullying is the Criminal Code (SFS 1962:700), including avoidance of powerlessness, abuse of one’ s exposed disposition, and insulting behaviour. Sweden published its first legal regulation (AFS 1993:17) targeting workplace bullying  in the early 1990s. It is entitled Victimization at Work.

Swedish legislation:

  • outlawed “recurrent reprehensible or distinctly negative actions which are directed against individual employees in an offensive manner and can result in those employees being placed outside the workplace community”;
  • created a duty for employers to swiftly investigate, mediate and counter any instances of bullying as well as implement preventative organizational measures against workplace bullying; and
  • took a “non-punitive” approach to bullying by aiming to resolve the problem through dialogue and consensus rather than through sanctioning employers.


However, Hoel and Einarsen (2010) have evaluated the effect of the ordinance Victimization at Work by semi-structured interviews with 18 stakeholders from employer and trade unions, enforcement authorities, academia, and victims support organizations. They conclude that the legislation has been far from successful. Their findings show that the ordinance has shortcomings related to the vagueness of its regulations, difficulties in engaging employers control and in managing attitudes and human relationships, problems with the Labour Inspectorate, and lack of progress in getting responses from the trade unions. They argued that the prevailing Swedish culture appears to sanction tacit bullying and the right to exclude somebody from the workplace.

Hoel and Einarsen went on to argue that the legislation must be supported by a competent enforcement agency.

In 2012 GullBritt Rahm et al. also found that there was still a prevalence of workplace bullying in Sweden. Their research shows the following;

  • Prevalence from 3.5% to 11%
  • 18.5% were bullied based on the critera of one negative act per week during the last six months (Leymann 1996)
  • 6.8% were bullied by two negative acts per week during the last six month (Mikkelsen & Einarsen 2001)
  • 4% experienced self-labelled bullying
  • 22% had witnessed bullying
  • 38% had been bullied earlier in life
  • 8.5% had been occupational bullied
  • 2.3% had been exposed to severe bullying

In summary then, it seems to me that Sweden takes bullying in the workplace seriously and has done so over a long period of time. Swedish research shows the life time harm bullying  does to its victims and legislation has been enacted, the first country to have done so. Sadly though, research shows that  legislation has not been strong enough as there is no competent enforcement agency to take action against perpetrators of bullying.

Country after country have reported the negative impact workplace bullying has upon the efficiency of the workplace organization and the long term health problems the victims suffer. Both of these problems then causes a huge financial drain upon each of the economies. Many countries have acknowledged that legislation is necessary to help combat this workplace problem but as we have seen with Sweden’s experience, a strong competent enforcement agency is also necessary.

In the UK, we have still got to persuade our policy makers to acknowledge that there is a problem with regard to bullying in the workplace and effective legislation is required to combat it. Next week let’s look at the reasons our policy makers have given for not implementing legislation contrary to our European counterparts.

Support the campaign to introduce legislation to protect workers against workplace bullying in the UK.

Spanish Legislation to Protect Workers against Bullying in the Workplace

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In Spain, the legal framework for bullying can be split into three categories:

  • bullying under Spanish civil law other than in relation to Protected Characteristics;
  • bullying in relation to Protected Characteristics; and
  • criminal liability for bullying.

 For this blog, I’m not looking at bullying in relation to Protected Characteristics as these people are protected under various legislation, including the Equality Act 2010. This Act  is based on the EU Equal Treatment Directives, which all EU member states had to transpose into law.

 Workplace bullying not based on Protected Characteristics

1. The Spanish Constitution – which guarantees “dignity” as an inalienable right, the “right to life, and the physical and mental (or moral) integrity” of every person and the right to privacy, honour,and respect of one’s image and reputation.

 2.The Law of the Statute of Workers gives all workers rights to their “physical integrity,” “privacy” and “due consideration for their dignity” including protection against abuse based on ethnic origin, religion, convictions, sickness, age or sexual orientation.

 3.The Law on Prevention of Occupational Risks and Rule 39/1997 on Preventative Services (RSP), and other health and safety regulations – which includes a broad duty for employers to maintain a safe workplace.

 In this context, the labour administration has adopted a code of practice on violence and harassment for the labour inspectors in charge of enforcing health and safety regulations which provides for the following general definition of bullying:

 “Where an unwanted conduct occurs with the purpose or the effect of violating the dignity of a person, and of creating an effect of violating the dignity of a person, and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” (Code of Practice for the Spanish Labour Inspectors on Bullying and Violence at Work 69/2009).

 4. The Code also establishes three basic elements constitutive of legal bullying:

 a)  the acts must be carried out with “the purpose or the effect” of violating the victim’s rights (demonstrating the bully’s intent is not required). As in France, therefore, under civil law, bullying does not require the bully to have the intent of bullying. Rather, there only needs to be a causal link between the conduct and the resultant harm (Spanish Constitutional Tribunal, 89/2005);

 b)  the behaviour creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for the victim; and

 c)  the behaviour is repetitive and capable of harming the victim’s health (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia Galicia 30 May 2005, AS 1515).

 Criminal liability for bullying

In June 2010, bullying at work was codified as a criminal violation under Article 173.1§2 of the Spanish Penal Code. Specifically, the new law has made it an offense, punishable by imprisonment for between six months and two years for:

 “those working in the private or public sector takingadvantage of their superior position and performing against another person repeated hostile orhumiliating acts which without constituting degrading treatment involve serious harassment of thevictim”.

 The necessary elements of the criminal offense of bullying are:

  • repeated acts (this requirement has been further elaborated by case law);
  • hostile or humiliating;
  • that do not constitute degrading treatment, but represent a serious harm to the victim;
  • must be committed by a superior towards someone lower in the hierarchy (this excludes “horizontal” harassment where co workers or peers mistreat one another, or inverse vertical harassment where it is the supervisor who is the victim); and
  • intentionality is required (negligent harassment is not punished). However, there are questions as to the effectiveness of this new law, particularly given that criminal proceedings are very slow and generally last for a minimum of three years.

 Criminal sanctions specific to bullying include six months’ to two years’ imprisonment.

From the civil standpoint, in addition to damages the following remedies are available:

  • claims analogous to constructive discharge; and
  • an order to nullify any termination or other measures taken on discriminatory grounds.

 In addition to actions brought by bullied employees, employers run the risk of being sanctioned by the Spanish Administration itself where Labour Inspectors find that a worker’s dignity has been violated, including through acts of bullying. This may lead to significant fines ranging from €6,251 to €187,515 for violations of labour law and from €2,046 to €819,780 for infringement of health and safety regulations.

  Labour Inspectors may also initiate proceedings to impose a 30-50% surcharge of a

bullied employee’s Social Security charges if the harm suffered was caused “exclusively” by the performance of work. (Spanish Social Security Act, Article 115.2.e).

 Finally, bullying can lead to additional Social Security liability. An employer guilty of bullying is liable to be charged between 30-50% of an injured employee’s total disability subsidy for work related injuries that are due to the employer’s failure to properly mitigate risk.

 Some illustrative examples of workplace bullying in Spain

  • Spain’s Supreme Court ordered the municipal government of Coria to pay €4,500 in compensation to an employee who was forced to work in a basement, with neither daylight nor ventilation.
  • Spain’s Supreme Court ordered a tool company to pay €14,000 for “biased psychological pressure,” and another € 30,000 in compensation for psychological damages to an employee who was forced to do work that did not fall within his job description, and was below his qualification level.




Bullying in the Workplace DOC – International labor Law

Next week I will look at legislation in Germany.

Support the campaign to introduce legislation to protect workers against workplace bullying in the UK