Bullying and harassment

Bullying and harassment means any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. It is not necessarily always obvious or apparent to others, and may happen in the workplace without an employer's awareness.

Bullying or harassment can be between two individuals or it may involve groups of people. It might be obvious or it might be insidious. It may be persistent or an isolated incident. It can also occur in written communications, by phone or through email, not just face-to-face.

Read our latest policy discussion paper pdf icon Seeking better solutions: tackling bullying and ill-treatment in Britain's workplaces [429kb]. The aim of this paper is to consider how bullying and ill-treatment might be tackled more effectively in Britain's workplaces.

You can download either the pdf icon Advice leaflet - Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers [195kb] or pdf icon Advice leaflet - Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for employees [215kb].

Alternatively, you can download the Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers (Acas advisory leaflets) [Kindle Edition] through the Amazon website. Please note that there is a small charge for the Kindle edition.

Examples of bullying / harassing behaviour could include:

  • spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone
  • exclusion or victimisation
  • unfair treatment
  • deliberately undermining a competent worker by constant criticism.

Under the Equality Act 2010, harassment is unwanted conduct which is related to one of the following: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation and is therefore unlawful.

People do not always feel able or confident enough to complain, particularly if the harasser is a manager or senior member of staff. Sometimes they will simply resign. It is therefore very important for employers to ensure that staff are aware of options available to them to deal with potential bullying or harassment, and that these remain confidential.

Workplace trends of 2016 report

Hear from leading workplace experts about the issue of bullying in 2016 by downloading the pdf icon Workplace trends of 2016 [680kb] report.

Questions and answers

What can I do about being bullied or harassed?

If you are being bullied or harassed, you should take any action you decide upon as quickly as possible. It is always best to try to resolve this informally in the first instance as sometimes a quick word can be all it takes. However, if this fails there are a number of options to consider:

  • see someone who you feel comfortable with to discuss the problem, perhaps someone in HR or company counsellor
  • talk to your trade union or staff representative
  • keep a diary of all incidents, record: dates, times, witnesses etc
  • keep any relevant letter, emails, notes etc.

Why should I as an employer act against bullying or harassment?

Bullying and harassment create an unhappy and unproductive workplace where you may have:

  • poor morale and poor employee relations
  • loss of respect for managers or supervisors
  • poor performance / lost productivity
  • absence / resignations
  • tribunal and other court cases and payment of unlimited compensation.

What can I do to prevent bullying or harassment taking place in my organisation?

There are a number of key considerations that should help to prevent this behaviour:

  • develop and implement a formal policy: this can be kept simple, but you should consider involving staff when writing it
  • set a good example: the behaviour of employers and senior managers is as important as any formal policy
  • maintain fair procedures for dealing promptly with complaints from employees
  • set standards of behaviour with an organisational statement about the standards of behaviour expected; this could be included in the staff handbook.

Insight: Is bullying at work getting worse?

The largest survey of workplaces in Britain - the Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS) - reported that three per cent of workplaces (with 10 or more employees) had experienced at least one grievance relating to bullying and harassment in the year prior to the 1998 survey; by 2004 this had risen to seven per cent. Visit our page Is bullying at work getting worse? for further information.

Did you know?

We offer free eLearning on a range of topics for individuals and different types of employers, including bullying and harassment. Sign up for free and get started.

Acas training

We run practical training events to equip managers, supervisors and HR professionals with the necessary skills to deal with employment relations issues and to create more productive workplace environments.

Click to view related Acas training and course dates in your area for:

All our training can be delivered in-house, at your organisation, find out more.

Acas diagnostics

Bullying and harassment can create an unhappy and unproductive workplace. We can work with you to diagnose issues within your workplace, and tailor practical solutions to address the challenges faced by you and your staff.

Our specialist advisers can visit your organisation to help you:

  • diagnose the nature and extent of the problem
  • create an action plan to deal with the issues
  • raise staff awareness regarding bullying and harassment
  • develop policies and procedures
  • mediate in conflict between colleagues or teams
  • train mediators within your organisation.

To arrange a call, visit or to find out more contact our Customer Services Team:

Acas Helpline

Our Helpline Online service offers advice and information on a wide range of workplace issues or you can call one of our Helpline advisers on 0300 123 1100 for free and impartial advice. The Acas helpline phone service is available Monday - Friday 8am-6pm.