Every office has its bully

Intimidation at work is as common as in the playground.
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The Independent Culture
PETER WILSON became a victim of workplace bullying when his three- month-old daughter was rushed to hospital one Saturday morning with suspected meningitis.

"I rang the office to tell them I would not be in," recalls Mr Wilson, 39, who was a manager in a publishing company. "The managing director's response was to shout at me down the phone and tell me that I had 10 minutes to get into the office, or be sacked."

Mr Wilson had already witnessed such behaviour.

"He used to say to me: `I've always found that if you pick on one person, it makes the rest of the group work harder'."

So when Mr Wilson challenged him over not allowing him to stay at his sick daughter's bedside, the result was predictable. He was fired.

Some 5 million employees are bullied at work by their bosses, according to a TUC survey just published. Eleven per cent of those who took part in the survey said they had been bullied. It is not just men bullying other men.

"The majority of perpetrators are male," says Umist's Dr Helge Hoel, one of Britain's academic experts on workplace bullying, "but this is largely because there are more men in managerial positions."

Marie, who now works for sales in BT, recalls how her female boss at a previous telecommunications company bullied her. "She would call me an idiot, and stupid. She even used to poke me physically in the privates, maybe two or three times a week. She thought it was funny."

This story is particularly worrying because nothing was done about it. The story is a familiar one. "Most people suffer in silence and then vote with their feet," says Dr Hoel. "Research suggests that confronting the bully is very dangerous. Your treatment could get worse and you could lose your job. He argues in favour of telling your trade union or personnel department. It may not work, but at least you should not lose your job.

There are, however, legal remedies. The EU's Health and Safety at Work directives effectively ban bullying, but there is a lack of case law. You can also sue if you become ill because of your treatment. You may additionally have a claim for unfair dismissal.

Names of interviewees have been changed