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employer anti-bullying policy development for a healthy workplace
Half the population are bullied ... most only recognize it when they read this

Developing a policy to deal with bullying at work
Information and guidance for employers' human resources and personnel officers and others

Updated 3 November 2005

All sensible employers have a policy on harassment and discrimination. A policy protects both employees and the employer. The motivation is twofold: to provide an atmosphere in which employees can fulfil the duties and obligations of their contract free from harassment, discrimination, victimisation and scapegoating, and to comply with UK and European law, specifically, the Sex Discrimination Act (1975), the Race Relations Act (1976), and the Disability Discrimination Act (1996), and Employment Law including the latest Employment Equality Regulations (2005).

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Discrimination and harassment |Bullying
Creating an anti-bullying ethos |Developing an anti-bullying policy

Discrimination and harassment

All employers should have a policy on discrimination and harassment; if you employ human beings, then even the best employers will have the occasional case. The difference between a good employer and a bad employer is not that good employers don't have cases of harassment etc, but that the good employers have a policy in place and will investigate and deal promptly, thoroughly and fairly with incidences of bullying and harassment according to recognised and agreed procedures.

The policy states that reprehensible behaviour is not acceptable and provides both a clear statement to all employees and a recognised and agreed course of action to be taken should any employee behave in an unacceptable manner. Existence and implementation of a policy also means that the employer is much less likely to be involved in employment tribunals and litigation, and if they are, will be in a better position to defend themselves successfully.


Bullying differs from harassment and discrimination in that the focus is rarely based on gender, race, or disability. The focus is often on competence, or rather the alleged lack of competence of the bullied person. In reality, the target of bullying is often competent and popular, and the bully is aggressively projecting their own social, interpersonal and professional inadequacy onto their target. The purpose of projection is to avoid facing up to that inadequacy and doing something about it, and - mainly - to distract and divert attention away from the bully's inadequacies, shortcomings and failings. In most cases, the bullying you see is the tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing by the bully.

Whilst bullying is the common denominator of all harassment, discrimination, abuse, conflict and violence, bullying varies from harassment in many ways; to see a table of the differences click here. I believe that bullying requires a separate chapter in any anti-harassment policy, as the causes are different, the perpetrator's motives are different, the tactics are different, there are several types of bullying, the legal aspects are different, and the solution will differ according to the type of bullying. It's essential to adopt the right solution for the type of bullying identified.

Bullying should not be confused with "tough management" or any other popular euphemisms that are employed to dismiss, diminish, rationalise or justify bullying behaviour. Pages you will find helpful include a table of the differences between management and bullying, answers tofrequently-asked questions, and a deconstruction of popularmyths, misperceptions and stereotypes associated with bullying.

Creating an anti-bullying ethos

Developing an anti-bullying policy is part of a wider commitment to ensuring a safe and productive work environment and a healthy workplace. Creating an anti-bullying ethos is a comprehensive and challenging objective which needs to be carefully thought through and understood before you start.

The main steps are as follows:

1. You are about to initiate a culture change, a process of evolution: from an ethos where bullying is acceptable (if only because you haven't had a policy on bullying before) to an ethos where bullying is not acceptable. Therefore, set realistic expectations of the time required for change to be achieved. Small organisations or organisations which have already prepared the way with carefully-designed and well-implemented equal opportunities or diversity polices might expect to complete the transition inside a year. Organisations where bullying is endemic might require two years or more and may require changes at the top.

2. It's a good idea to start off on the right foot, so ensure that everyone is involved and can contribute to the process from the outset. This includes directors, management, personnel, staff, trade unions, health and safety reps, counselling and welfare department, workers' representatives, etc. Anyone who is against the idea of creating an anti-bullying ethos does not have the employer's interests at heart.

3. You can ask staff for their views on bullying with an attitude survey, although you must be prepared to ask valid (perhaps unpleasant) questions and be prepared for some uncomfortable responses. Surveys returned anonymously are likely to be more reliable. A good source of reliable data comes from exit interviews; although this is locking the stable door after the horse has bolted, it is a starting point. It is possible certain names will come up repeatedly.

4. Keep statistics on staff turnover, both absolute (the actual number of staff who leave each year), relative (expressed as a percentage of total staff employed), departmental (ditto on a department basis), and manager-based (ditto on a person basis). This will indicate trouble spots and along with the results of the staff attitude survey will give you hard data with which to measure improvement as your policy takes effect. This information will help convince sceptics, doubters, auditors, shareholders, taxpayers, donors, etc. This data can also be converted into cost.

5. Bullying is a form of violence; it is aggression expressed psychologically and emotionally rather than physically. Just because there's no physical injury (except the symptoms of stress - see health and PTSD pages), don't make the mistake of thinking it's not harmful. It is - bullying is often more devastating than a physical injury; the suffering is often compounded by denial and unenlightenedness. Dealing with violence - physical and psychological - in the workplace is the responsibility of the employer, not the individual manager.

6. Understand bullying. There are many misperceptions about bullying ("it's tough management", "you've got to bully people to get the job done", etc) and you need toovercome these before you start. Also, you cannot write an effective policy before you know what you are dealing with. So, before you start,

  1. read and digest all of this web site - see the site map
  2. read all the books on workplace bullying
  3. read books on related topics of stress, harassment, discrimination, violence, etc
  4. follow links to other web sites on bullying
  5. make contact with fellow professionals
  6. absorb information from your professional bodies
  7. attend conferences andevents on bullying and build a network of contacts

7. Once you know what you are dealing with, you are ready, as an employer, to make a commitment to all employees about what is acceptable behaviour and what is not acceptable behaviour in the workplace. This commitment must come from the top.

8. Everyone has a view of bullying but everybody's view will differ slightly. Share your knowledge of bullying with all employees so that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. People hate policy documents and official documents (when did you last read the staff handbook?); however, they anticipate and welcome news, so, rather than just updating staff handbooks and sending copies of policies to everybody, condense your initiative into a news item in the employer's newsletter. Describe yourselves as pioneers. Plagiarise this web site, order a copy of Bully in sight for every employee.

9. You are now in a position to start work on your anti-bullying policy; understand that its completion may take several months and thereafter there will be a trial period whilst it's tested. It might take a year to get it into a form you are happy with. Liaise with other employers undergoing this process.

10. Resist the temptation to put your existing anti-harassment policy on your PC screen and use your word processor to find all occurrences of the word "harassment" and add after it the words "and bullying". This quick fix doesn't work.

11. A wider approach is likely to be more effective, especially in the long-term. Instead of having one policy on harassment, I suggest having an overall policy called, say, Dignity at Work, which contains an introduction stating the reasons for having this policy etc, then separate chapters on harassment, discrimination, assault and violence, bullying, treatment of minorities, etc in line with your chosen ethos and emphasis. You can orient it towards equal opportunities, or diversity, or legalities, or cost, or benefits to employees and business, or whatever you choose. This way, you can update individual sections without having to re-issue the whole policy every time. The phrase "Dignity at Work" derives from European law, whereby harassment and discrimination are examples of unacceptable behaviour which "affect the dignity of men and women at work".

12. Make sure you understand the different types of bullying (to see them, clickhere). The way in which you deal with each will vary. For example, mediation is useful with unwitting bullying and organisational bullying, but it's wholly inappropriate for dealing with a serial bully. Serial bullies like mediation because it gives them the opportunity of appearing to be conciliatory whilst simultaneously evading accountability and carrying on with their bullying. Although there may be a pause, within two weeks, the bullying will have restarted.

13. Ensure you know how to identify, expose and deal with the serial bully, who is often a disordered persoanlity or unrecognised sociopath. I estimate one person in thirty is a serial bully. Find out how the serial bully gets away with their unacceptable behaviour repeatedly. Start by learning to recognise the serial bully from their behaviour profile.

14. Know how to investigate a case of bullying. it's a specialised job and an investigation is more than just asking questions and taking statements. The serial bully is adept at creating conflict between those who would otherwise pool negative information about them whilst indulging their gratification of seeing others (employer and employee) destroy each other. The serial bully is also adept at distorting people's perceptions. In the unlikely event of the serial bully being identified and held to account, the bully may leave, resulting in the employer defending litigation (for the bully's behaviour) which may last years. Tim Field's bully profiles give you the necessary insight to identify serial bullies.

15. If you have a serial bully on the staff, then the bullying you see will be only the tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing by that person.

16. Resist the temptation to take an existing unresolved case and make this person a guinea pig early on before the ink on the policy is dry. If the policy doesn't work, the person may feel further victimised (and more litigious).

17. Make sure your Personnel and Equal Opportunities/Harassment officers digest everything at Bully OnLine and that they are fully aware of all issues of harassment, discrimination and bullying. Targets of bullying will have high expectations of these people when the policy is invoked.

18. The cost of bullying rarely appears in the accounts. Discover how much bullying is costing you in terms of staff time wasted, staff turnover, sickness absence, poor productivity, low morale, poor customer service, etc. If you have a serial bully in your midst, your employees will spend more and more time covering their backs and less and less time doing real work; under these circumstances, people develop excellent acting skills. Putting a cost on bullying will convince senior minds, should any persuasion be necessary.

19. On the topic of overcoming reluctance higher up, find out how much litigation the employer will face if you don't take action now. Bullied employees are increasingly asserting their right not to be bullied; if you have an unrecognised serial bully on the payroll, you - the employer - will be paying a heavy price for the bully's behaviour. The serial bully gains gratification (a perverse sense of satisfaction) from the mayhem they are creating whilst causing the employer to incur vicarious liability. Remember that the serial bully is not on the side of the employer - the bully is entirely concerned with his or her own interests and survival. The serial bully merely uses and hides behind the employer. Do not underestimate the deceptive capabilities of the serial bully.

20. Ensure that you know how to investigate a case of bullying. Unlike harassment, assault etc, there will be little physical evidence. Use an independent investigator who is experienced in dealing with bullying cases.

21. Make available a member of staff to whom anyone who feels they are being bullied can go and talk to. This person must be trained in bullying, harassment, and counselling, and meetings must be guaranteed confidential. The presence of this person will deter genuinely poor performers who are claiming to be bullied from using bullying as an excuse. It might be appropriate to make it mandatory in your policy for targets to meet this independent person before any action can be taken.

22. Provide ongoing training for all staff covering bullying and harassment (bullying awareness, harassment and discrimination issues etc) and how to deal with it (assertiveness, interpersonal skills, confidence and esteem building etc). This might be part of a larger Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).

Developing an anti-bullying policy

An anti-bullying policy applies to everyone, from chief executive to cleaner, from permanent full-time staff to contractors. It must state clearly that bullying is a disciplinary offence, which links the behaviour into existing disciplinary procedures. To be effective, the policy must state that confidentiality is guaranteed.

Existing grievance procedures are not suited to dealing with bullying, as most bullying is committed either by the target's line manager, or by a co-worker often with the line manager's active (encouragement) or passive (refusing to take action) support. Therefore, anyone resorting to informal or formal procedures must be able to have the services of individuals not connected with the alleged bully. It is a breach of natural justice for the alleged bully to be in any way involved with investigation and judgement.

Most policy recommendations suggest a two-tier procedure: an informal stage and then, if the informal stage is not sufficient or the offence is of a serious nature, a formal stage.


The person who believes they are being bullied needs to be able to discuss their situation with somebody who is empathic and trained in these issues. If genuine, the target will gain strength to continue their course of action; if frivolous, the individual and their circumstances can be assessed and advised accordingly.

At this stage it's essential to identify the type of bullying that has been reported. You will establish this through an informal investigation. The person who undertakes this role must be impartial and fully trained in bullying and investigation techniques specific to bullying.

Unwitting and organisational bullying can often be defused at this stage without the need to escalate matters to the formal stage. With unwitting bullying (which can be all of us at times), a quiet word or a letter from the target (constructed with assistance) will often be sufficient. The unwitting bully may need assistance, especially if their behaviour has deteriorated due to excessive workload or a change in their job or inadequate training or lack of support.

With a serial bully, the informal procedure may require that the alleged bully is made aware of their behaviour, as well as the harmful effect on their target in terms of health and ability to perform their duties, its inappropriateness, and that it is contrary to policy. The bully will have to be reminded that bullying is a disciplinary offence and repeated incidents may render them liable to a formal procedure which might result in disciplinary action.

Whether you make and keep any written records at this stage is a decision for you; I suggest that a note is kept on file which includes a statement that it should only be taken into account if a formal or further informal procedures are initiated. A single informal procedure need not be held against the individual, especially with unwitting bullying.

To counter the target's request that they don't want any action to be taken against the bully at this stage and they don't want the bullying to be investigated, the policy should have a clear statement along the lines that "the employer has a legal obligation called aDuty of Care to provide both a safe place and a safe system of work; any bullying that is reported must be investigated, first informally, and later, if appropriate, formally, in order to comply with this duty of care. This duty of care cannot be derogated." Derogated means avoided or abdicated or passed to someone else for any reason.

The policy must also have a clause stating that victimisation as a result of reporting bullying and harassment will be regarded as a serious breach of discipline and will automatically result in a formal investigation which, if proven, may result in disciplinary action being taken against the perpetrator, which may include dismissal.

The policy also needs a clause stating that "the making of false or malicious complaints of bullying and harassment will be regarded as a serious disciplinary offence". It is common practice for serial bullies to make specious allegations of bullying and harassment the moment they are held accountable for their behaviour - despite the fact that the bully has made no mention of these prior to being held accountable.

At the informal stage, should you, the employer, bring the two sides (alleged bully and target) together? It depends on the circumstances and you should be guided by the needs of the target and the results of your own informal investigation. With unwitting bullying, bringing the two sides together may be appropriate, especially if mediation is used. With a serial bully, the default should be that there is no contact unless the target requests it. Many targets of serial bullies are so traumatised by the time they report the bullying that being coerced into close proximity with the serial bully causes further trauma. This makes sense when you realise that bullying is a form of psychological rape because of its intrusive and violational nature. These days, we would not expect a target of rape to have to sit in the same room at the same table as her attacker. Such a situation (rape or bullying) will almost certainly trigger PTSD DSM-IV diagnostic criteria B4, B5, D2, D3, D4, D5 and F and constitute breaches of duty of care and the Disability Discrimination Act.


If the bullying cannot be resolved by an informal procedure, the target - or the employer if they feel it is appropriate under their duty of care - can initiate a formal procedure. The formal procedure must state clearly in writing what the procedure involves and what the possible outcomes will be. Rights of appeal for both parties should also be made clear at this stage.

The first step is to find out the facts, so an investigation by an experienced investigator is essential. The investigator must be impartial and confidentiality must be guaranteed; with a serial bully, most employees will be too frightened to come forward of their own volition.

A good starting point is the bully's CV; serial bullies often lie about their qualifications and experience, or describe it in ambiguous terms which are misleading. For example "I undertook a degree course in xxx" or "I studied for an MBA at Xxx University" may give the impression of holding a degree or management qualification but may mean "I started the course but didn't complete it because I failed the exams". Check everything with a fine toothcomb; lying and deception can be used as the basis for a disciplinary offence.

Another profitable line of enquiry is to establish the precise circumstances under which the bully left their previous job; in many cases, their behaviour led to them being given the option of resigning or being sacked. Most bullies, given the choice, elect to resign so nothing appears on record. The previous employer, glad to be rid of the bully and fearful of legal action for giving a misleading reference, is unlikely to admit this has happened.

Representation in grievance and disciplinary meetings is a grey area with many employers claiming that the person who is the alleged target of bullying is not entitled to representation. Denial of representation is a common tactic by which bullies reveal themselves, therefore I believe that any reasonable employer will allow and encourage both parties to have a representative of their choice and without limitation present in all meetings related to the formal procedure. The Employment Rights Act gives employees the legal right to be accompanied during grievance procedures and disciplinary hearings, but only by a union rep or fellow worker; the former often are too involved with management to be impartial, and the latter are too frightened to come forward and are often threatened by the bully anyway. A reasonable employer will go beyond what the law requires and allow the target to be accompanied by a person of their own choosing.


Behaviour profile of the serial bully

The typical cost of a serial bully

The difference between bullying and management

Swedish law on Victimization at Work

Dignity at Work Bill

The Andrea Adams Trust is a UK national charity devoted to raising awareness of and tackling bullying. Andrea Adams Trust, Hova House, 1 Hove Place, Hove, East Sussex BN3 3DH, UK, Tel 01273 704900, fax 01273 704901.
For a list of Andrea Adams Trust publications (including Bullying at work: how to confront and overcome it by Andrea Adams and Neil Crawford) and ordering details, click here.
The Andrea Adams Trust are spearheading the UKNational Ban Bullying At Work Day on Monday 7 November 2005.

Model policies on harassment etc.

Personnelise promotes good practice, offers expertise and hands-on assistance to employers and employees across a variety of industries at a reasonable price.

International Harassment Network: working with employers to tackle bullying and harassment. Contact: Vicki Merchant, International Harassment Network, 19 The Bull Ring, Ludlow, Shropshire SY8 1AA, Tel 01584 877700, Fax 01584 874400, email, web site
To obtain the 1998 and 1999 International Harassment Network Annual Conference proceedings click here.

Where now?
Lots of information and ideas for tackling bullying including the legal aspects
Action Home Page |Action to tackle bullying
Guidance for employers on policy development
Bullying and the trade unions |Bullying and the law
Case law on bullying, harassment, stress and personal injury
Court judgements in cases relevant to bullying
Long v. Mercury Mobile Communications Services
Hatton Barber et al: 16 practical propositions for a personal injury case
Right to be accompanied |The need for risk assessment
High Court injunction to prevent unfair dismissal | Obstruction to justice
Bullyonline action forum for validation and re-empowerment
UK Dignity at Work Bill |Swedish law on Victimization at Work
Bullying and human rights |Waters v. London Metropolitan Police
Barber v. Somerset County Council
Zimmerman: retaliation in the US courts
Bullying history: books, articles and publications since 1992
How to lobby your MP: example letter and summary of inadequacy of UK law
Amicus Campaign Against Bullying At Work (CABAW)
Tim Field's written submission to the Dignity at Work Bill debate
Getting another job after bullying | How to recover from bullying
Setting up a bullying survivor support group | Sample support group constitution
Using the search engines to find other sites on bullying etc
Dealing with viruses, worms, spam etc
Designing and building your own web site
Advice and guidance for new Internet users
Tim Field's book Bully in sight validates the experience of bullying and
defines the injury to health caused by bullying and harassment

Home Pages
The Field Foundation | Bully OnLine
Workplace bullying | School bullying |Family bullying
Bullying news | Press and media centre
Bullying case histories | Bullying resources
Stress and PTSD
Action to tackle bullying | Related issues

Success Unlimited
Books on bullying and psychiatric injury