What to Do If You Are Accused of Bullying in the Workplace
The accusations of bullying and harassment towards someone in the workplace is very serious and can have far-reaching consequences if the allegations are found to have grounds. You could lose your current job and potentially struggle to get another as the label of a bully can be difficult to shake and can influence new employers.
For genuine and intentional bully’s these allegations will be nothing new, however, there are times when innocent parties can unknowingly engage in behaviour that can be intimidating or harassing. While unintentional this behavior needs to be dealt with and this article will discuss the procedure that the majority of employers should follow when someone is accused of bullying.
Each company will, or should, have its policy on bullying and harassment and it is strongly recommended that you read this policy when joining new employment or as soon as possible after the accusation has been made.
Formal or Informal
The first point you will need to consider once you become aware that someone has accused you of bullying or harassing behavior is the nature of the complaint. Has the complaint been made formally or informally? The way you respond differs depending on the type of accusation.
An informal accusation is when the victim approaches you directly to raise their complaint. In this situation, you should, very calmly, sit down with them and try to find out exactly what they believe you have done that they consider to be harassing or bullying behavior. Why do they feel that you are harassing or bullying them? Do they feel specifically targeted by you?
During this conversation, you should both remain calm and genuinely try to resolve the issue. It is easy to feel anger when someone accuses you of bullying, especially when you had no idea they felt this way and you never intended to come across in such a manner, but anger will not help resolve the situation. A calm discussion will give you both a greater understanding of each other’s position and help the working relationship move forward.
A complaint can also be informal if the victim approaches your superior, raises their concern verbally to them and asks them to have a word with you. Again, like above do your best to remain calm. Calmly explain to your superior your position, your intentions and ask how they feel you can move forward in this situation.
If the complaint is made formally then the victim will have gone directly to HR or management/your superiors with their complaint. They will have likely raised the complaint in writing, and this will trigger the formal investigation process. A formal complaint is a much more serious issue than an informal one; it can result in disciplinary action being taken against you and could in some situations result in the termination of your employment.
HR or your superiors will approach you, and they will explain the situation to you, and you will be told exactly what the complaint involves and what specific incidents the victim is complaining of.
If the complaint is formal you may be put on suspension while the investigation is ongoing. Being put on suspension is upsetting but it does not mean that your guilt has already been decided, it is just a way of making sure the investigation is fair and unbiased. While it will be tempting to be angry with your employer and feel like they are already taking sides when you have not intentionally done any wrongdoing you must try to remain calm.
Your contract of employment or company handbook will provide more details regarding suspension, including your pay, and the length of time you can be suspended for.
While you are suspended your employer will investigate the situation. Usually, this will involve talking to co-workers to get witness evidence. You should be contacted regularly while on suspension and kept up to date with how the investigation is going.
Once the investigation is complete you will be contacted and told either the complaint against you has no grounds or that a further investigatory meeting is required.
If the meeting is needed then you should be told in advance about this, you must have time to build your case. You must also be given copies of any evidence against you, if not then you need to ask for this. You have the statutory right to be accompanied at the meeting but only by a trade union representative or a colleague. Legal representation or family/friends are not allowed unless the employer agrees.
In this meeting, you will be questioned at length about the issue and will have the opportunity to say your piece. As you should know what the complaint details any evidence you can produce to disprove it should be collected prior to the meeting and copies given to your employer.
The complaint details an instance of bullying on Wednesday 13th July 2016, but you were on holiday that day. To prove this, you should take your rota to the meeting as it will show that you were not in that day. Your employer will already have investigated this, but you need to remember that you are trying to prove your case and evidence is critical. Never assume your employer has something, always provide what you can.
You are accused of regularly raising your voice to the victim in front of others. The victim has specified several dates. You should attempt to provide witness evidence to confirm that you did not raise your voice to the victim.
You are accused of sending numerous emails to the victim, constantly being critical of their work or inappropriate in your manner. You should provide copies of these emails to disprove the accusation.
If there are witnesses involved they will be at the meeting, you may be able to question them, or if you have witnesses of your own, then you can ask them to be present.
After the meeting, your employer will retire to review the evidence and make a decision, this can take some days.
Once a decision has been made you should be told about it. You can be told over the telephone or by email, but you should also receive a letter confirming the decision.
If the bullying allegation was not proven, then you can go back to work. If the allegation is found to have been proven, then you can be subject to disciplinary action such as a note/strike on your record, being sent on a course to improve your people skills, being moved to another department away from the victim or being sacked.
If you are subject to disciplinary action, then your employer must be able to show that they had reasonable grounds for believing that you were guilty of the allegations against you. They must also show that they carried out as much investigation as was reasonable in the circumstances; and that a fair disciplinary procedure was followed. Lastly, your employer needs to be able to show that the disciplinary action was a reasonable response. If these were not done then you could, potentially, have a claim for wrongful dismissal or constructive dismissal depending on the situation.
In conclusion, if the bullying allegation is raised informally you should, calmly discuss the issue and resolve the matter before it escalates. If the allegation is raised formally, then you can be put on suspension while an investigation is carried out, then called to a formal meeting where you can put your case forward. A decision will then be made and the outcome decided.