What Protection Could the Bullying and Respect at Work Bill Provide for Employees?

Friday 11th August 2023

On 11 July 2023, the Bullying and Respect at Work Bill underwent its first reading in the House of Commons. The aim of the Bill is to provide legal protection to employees who suffer bullying in the workplace.

Current Protection from Bullying


Currently, there is only limited legal protection for employees against bullying. Harassment or discrimination must be linked to a protected characteristic which excludes a great number of employees who face bullying at work for other reasons. The alternative for employees who face bullying is to claim constructive unfair dismissal. However, this requires employees to have two years’ service and to actually leave their job. In many cases they must resign quickly after the act so they are not taken to affirm the conduct. The problem is that this may leave them in the unwelcome situation of being unemployed, an unaffordable option to many particularly with the current cost of living crisis.


Constructive unfair dismissal also carries a high threshold in terms of the burden on the employee to prove that the situation was so bad that it was tantamount to dismissal and that they resigned due to the employer’s actions. For that reason, the legal protections already in place are not often used and according to research carried out by the Trade Union Commission, 29% of workers will experience workplace bullying and due to the lack of redress, and that 53% of those who are bullied do not report it.


The Aims of the Bill

The Acas Code of Practice sets out the definition of bullying as “unwanted behaviour from a person or group that is either:

  • offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting
  • an abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates or causes physical or emotional harm to someone.”


The Bill seeks to use that definition to create a statutory definition of ‘bullying’ which requires a subjective test i.e. what was the impact of the conduct, and an objective test of the behaviours being offensive, malicious, intimidating or humiliating.


During the Bill’s first reading, it was acknowledged that bulling can be organisational, direct or indirect, carried out through a third party, with or without intent. The Bill also aims to expand the circumstances in which the tribunal can uplift an award, such as where the employer fails to instil positive workplace behaviours.


As currently envisioned, the Bill would make protection from bullying a day-one right and workers would have 6 months to bring a claim. It also seeks to give the Equality and Human Rights Commission extended powers to investigate, report and issue enforcement notices.


The Impact on Employers


The Bill is still a long way from becoming law and similar attempts to define bullying and introduce protections have failed in the past so it’s possible the Bill may never attain Royal Assent.


Although there is currently no action to be taken, it would be good for employers to ‘get ahead of the game’ and take steps to promote a ‘positive work environment’. Best practice would be for employers to consider making amendments to policies on workplace bullying, introduce training on bullying in the workplace and to clearly document all steps taken to encourage a ‘positive work environment’.


For assistance with allegations of bullying in the workplace, disciplinary proceedings or policy updates, please speak to a member of the employment team.