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Workplace bullying to be defined and abolished by new bill

Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central, presented a bill to parliament on 11 July which aims to stamp out workplace bullying.

The bill would require employers to establish mechanisms for reporting, investigating, and punishing bullying.

It would also promote positive behaviours through a Respect at Work Code, which would specify behaviours classed as bullying, enforced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). 

More on bullying:

Does the Raab affair clear up the definition of “bullying”?

What to do if you notice bullying in the workplace

Third of workers have experienced bullying disguised as banter

The bill's reading follows the exit of deputy prime minister Dominic Raab in May this year who resigned following bullying allegations.

A probe found him guilty of persistently aggressive conduct but he complained that procedures had not been followed fairly, leading to debates over the definition of workplace bullying. 

The legal parameters of workplace bullying have long been contested, according to Richard Fox, senior consultant in the employment team at law firm Kingsley Napley. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: "This [bill] lances a boil that has existed for a long time.  

“Despite all the worker protection legislation that has built up over many years, there has never actually been an Act which outlaws bullying per se, or clarifies what exactly it is.  

“This bill would be a big step forward for both employers and employees.” 

Bullying claims hit a record high in 2022, increasing from 581 to 835 – an increase of 44%   between March 2021 and March 2022, according to analysis from law firm Fox and Partners. 

Tania Goodman, partner at law firm Collyer Bristow, said that while bullying is covered by a number of statutes, they do not give employees adequate protection.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “These measures are okay up to a point but do not really address the issue head on.  

“Specific legislation relating to bullying at work is already in place in other jurisdictions and apparently provides a more direct route for employees suffering from bullying.

"I can see some real advantages of simplifying the law in this area, making it more accessible for individuals rather than having to navigate a myriad of legislation, some of which might not be directly relevant or fit for purpose.” 

The bill is due to receive its second reading on 24 November.