Women ‘a third more likely to be bullied at work’

Tina Chandler from law firm Wright Hassall outlines research showing women are a third more likely to say they have been bullied and what employers should do to stamp bullying out.

Mental Health


Leamington Spa-based law firm Wright Hassall recently conducted a nationally representative survey into bullying and/or harassment at work. The study found that 40% of mothers have experienced bullying and/or harassment – and that women are one-third more likely to say they experience it than their male colleagues.

Here, Wright Hassall’s Head of Employment Law, Tina Chander, shares what mums can do if they experience bullying and/or harassment at work and discusses how employers can protect their female employees.

What the law says

Put simply, sex discrimination is unlawful. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is unlawful. If you are being bullied and harassed because you are a woman or because you are pregnant or on maternity leave, this could lead to claims of sex discrimination and pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

If you are an employer and receive reports from employees alleging any such behaviour, it’s not something that can be swept under the rug, and it must be taken very seriously indeed and dealt with as a grievance.

Failure to do so under the ACAS Code of Conduct for Grievances and Disciplinaries means that any award made by the Employment Tribunal may be uplifted by up to 25%. Not only can this be a financially crippling experience, but it can also severely damage your business’s reputation.

The importance of a healthy workplace culture

Our survey found that one third more women experience bullying and/or harassment from a co-worker or supervisor than men. These statistics come as no surprise, but having them confirmed in hard numbers is hugely upsetting. Employers should be asking themselves the following:

  • Why are women more exposed to bullying and harassment?
  • Are there cultural issues that need dealing with?
  • Is it because women are underrepresented?
  • Is it because more males are in senior positions?
  • Is it because employees have received no training on unacceptable behaviours, company expectations, bullying, harassment and discrimination?

We also found that 62.5% of people who experienced bullying chose not to report the behaviour. So what can employers do to help employees feel comfortable reporting incidents of bullying and/or harassment?

To actively encourage employees to speak honestly about such incidents, employers must ensure that they have provided adequate training to their managers to assist them in identifying and dealing with such behaviour; and have up-to-date policies on bullying and harassment.

It’s a win-win for employers: if they are seen to take reports of bullying and/or harassment seriously, this is likely to improve their employees’ confidence in reporting any issues they have experienced themselves.

As such behaviour is often displayed by a select few individuals within an organisation, a small number of reports can significantly improve workforce morale and the workplace environment.

Hope for the future

Statutory protections for mothers in the workplace, including those on maternity leave or who have recently returned from maternity leave, are increasing – this indicates a positive change for mothers in the workplace.

The amendment of statutory provisions for flexible working requests to allow further flexibility for employees to make additional requests and do so earlier in their employment will also support mothers in returning to work following maternity leave.

These changes to legislation represent improving attitudes towards mothers in the workplace and provide them with further protection against discriminatory conduct.

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