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Bringing the bullies to book

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 32, PAGE NO: 33

Tracy McFall BSc RGN OHN

Most of us have worked with a bully at some point: a person who thinks it is reasonable to shout at staff, blow hot and cold from one day to the next or criticise without justification.

Most of us have worked with a bully at some point: a person who thinks it is reasonable to shout at staff, blow hot and cold from one day to the next or criticise without justification.

More often than not bullies think their behaviour is acceptable - after all, they've got a difficult job and someone has to do it. But beneath the surface, the bully is an insecure individual who believes that controlling behaviour is the only way to achieve success and motivate staff.

As an occupational health nurse with experience in both the NHS and the independent sector, bullying has been evident in every area I have worked in. I've seen men and women reduced to tears, too fearful to challenge their bully. Some have taken time off work as a result. Others have sought alternative employment so the issue is never resolved. Most remain silent.

Bullying can be difficult to prove, but at last the law courts are taking the issue seriously. In Cross v Highland and Islands Enterprise (2001), the Scottish Court of Session recently ruled that 'where an employer knew or should have known that the working conditions in which they required an employee to operate were so stressful that it was objectively likely that, over time, the employee would succumb to psychiatric illness, that employer would be liable for any loss and damage suffered by that employee.'

For occupational health workers, this ruling heralds progress. Sadly, as with a lot of things, the most effective antidote to bullying can be the threat of a lawsuit.

But blowing the whistle on bullying is fraught with difficulties and takes courage. The following tips should be useful:

- Keep a record of what has been said and done to you so that a clear account can be given to the alleged bully;

- Tell a colleague, family member or friend about any incidents as they may need to recall your experience at a later date;

- Contact your occupational health department and GP to ensure that there is a written record of any incident;

- Get advice from your trade union representative;

- Confidentiality is paramount, so make sure you ask for it until you are ready to expose the bully.

By taking these small steps you will start the process of recording the bullying experiences. Both the RCN and Unison issue guidance on workplace bullying.

Even with legal protection for the victims, most bullying goes unchallenged.

In recognising bullying as a workplace hazard, the specialty of occupational health is changing from one concerned mainly with physical hazards to one concerned with protecting the mental health of the workforce. For the victims of bullying, this is no bad thing.

- See p38

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