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Workplace bullying and harassment

Bullying can take many forms. It can be blatant and obvious, but it can also be covert and subtle. Bullying can be a regular pattern of behaviour or a one off incident. It can happen face-to-face, on social media, in emails or phone calls, at work, or during work social events.

Workplace bullying and harassment

Any instance or ongoing  behaviour that causes the recipient to feel hurt, embarrassment, threatened, intimidated, forced, or coerced, is could be considered bullying. Workplace bullying can happen between anybody in the workplace, whether it’s a colleague, a senior officer / manager, or someone who reports to you.


Here are some common signs of workplace bullying:

  • Constant criticism
  • Removal of duties without reason
  • Overbearing supervision or monitoring
  • Threats, aggression, and shouting
  • Being put down, picked on, and made to feel like the butt of the jokes
  • Being excluded and ignored
  • Having malicious rumours spread
  • Unwelcome sexual advances (sexual harassment)
  • Misusing a position of power to belittle, demean, or intimidate
  • Refusing reasonable requests
  • Unfounded threats and comments about job security
  • Blocking promotion, progress, or training opportunities

Feeling bullied can cause the recipient feelings of humiliation and embarrassment. It can also affect a person’s confidence and their ability to perform their duties effectively. Ongoing feelings of being bullied can lead to more damaging emotions such as  anger, anxiety, depression, dread, and sadness. It can lower our self esteem, which can impact on both work and our home lives and cause us to question ourselves or doubt our skills and abilities, or make us feel ‘not good enough’.


Harassment is when bullying or unwanted behaviour is about any of the following 'protected characteristics' under the law (the Equality Act 2010):

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

It’s against the law for anyone to treat you unfairly because of any of the above protected characteristics.

There are three forms of workplace harassment:


(i.e. sending emails with offensive jokes about race or religion, imitating someone’s foreign accent, making derogatory comments, repeatedly asking for dates or sexual acts)


(i.e. sexually suggestive hand gestures or facial expressions, unwanted touching, frequent following or standing too close to someone on purpose, playing music with offensive or degrading language)


(i.e. showing other people sexually suggestive pictures or messages, displaying posters or pictures of a sexual nature, drawing violent or derogatory images, watching pornographic or violent imagery in front of others)

What you can do if you feel bullied and / or harassed?

In some cases, the person upsetting you might not realise the effect of their actions. In the first instance try talking with them, if you feel you can. This can be difficult if the person making you feel bullied or harassed is a senior officer or a staff member more senior to you. During the conversation, it’s helpful to do the following:

  • explain how their behaviour makes you feel
  • keep it professional and calm
  • stick to the facts
  • it is probably a good idea to make some personal notes of the conversation and when it took place in case things don’t improve

If you do not feel comfortable or safe talking to the person face to face, you could instead write to them or send an email. If that doesn’t feel appropriate or the bullying carries on, you should consider talking with someone at work you feel comfortable with.

This could be:

  • your manager or another manager if your manager is the person making you feel uncomfortable
  • a trusted colleague
  • a peer support worker e.g. Blue Light Champion
  • Occupational Health counselling or Employee Assistance
  • your Federation Rep’ or staff association / union representative
  • your welfare officer

It's also a good idea to keep a diary or record of the bullying, including:

  • how the bullying made you feel
  • dates and times it happened
  • any evidence, for example emails or screenshots of social media posts
  • any witnesses

Workplace bullying can leave us feeling very alone and isolated. What is most important is that you’re able to tell someone about what’s happening and get some support while you decide what to do.

What else can I do?

Each police service will have its own workplace bullying and / or harassment policy or guidance document. You can usually find this within your human resources (HR) pages and procedures. Some forces also have bulling helplines which you can contact in confidence for support and advice.

Ensure you follow any policies or protocols in your local force if matters don’t improve or should things escalate.

Further support

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)
0300 123 1100
https://www.acas.org.uk/  For information and advice on employment rights and bullying at work.

020 3117 2520
https://protect-advice.org.uk/   Confidential whistleblowing support and advice

https://www.bullyonline.org/ Useful information for anyone being bullied at work.

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en Useful information relating to rights and dignity at work.


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