Encountering bullying of any kind can be distressing. And, bullying doesn’t stop at the school playground for all too many people. As an adult, workplace bullying and harassment can still be common, but there are steps you can take to deal with it.
Mobbing is a form of workplace bullying that can leave an individual feeling isolated, humiliated, and devalued. But what is mobbing? As a victim, how can you deal with it? This guide aims to answer some common questions and outline some steps you can take towards legal action if necessary.
- What is mobbing?
- What are some examples of mobbing in the workplace?
- How common is mobbing in the workplace?
- Why does mobbing in the workplace happen?
- The negative effects of mobbing
- What can organisations do to prevent mobbing?
- Is mobbing illegal in the UK?
- What to do if you’ve been a victim of mobbing
- Can I take legal action as a victim of workplace bullying?
What is mobbing?
Also frequently known as group bullying, mobbing involves a group of people who target a co-worker to harass, humiliate, or isolate them. Normally, mobbing is instigated by a leader who will then get others involved to bully a co-worker. This is where the term ‘mobbing’ comes from, as the group will exhibit mob-like behaviour.
Being a target of bullying is always distressing, but mobbing, in particular, can leave an employee feeling scared and isolated by a whole group of their co-workers.
What are some examples of mobbing in the workplace?
Mobbing in the workplace can take many forms. Here are some common scenarios to look out for:
Often, workplace bullies exhibit verbal aggression to taunt and belittle their targets. This only serves to be exacerbated when coming from a group of individuals, all at once or separately. Beyond aggressive, sarcastic, or insulting remarks, verbal abuse can also take the form of a harsh tone or even sexual harassment.
Mobbing in the workplace can also take the form of physical bullying. It is far rarer than verbal bullying and is often the result of an escalation in mobbing behaviour. This is because physical assault is illegal, and bullies may worry about the repercussions if they participate in it. However, if they do not fear being caught or facing such repercussions, they may still partake in physical bullying behaviour.
It is all too common for victims of mobbing in the workplace to face exclusion from their colleagues. This can be the form of ‘accidentally’ leaving an individual out of an email chain or meeting. Or, it could be refusing to interact and socialise with them in and outside of work. For example, they may be left out of everyday workplace activities such as after-work drinks or Christmas parties. Physical exclusion may also occur when an individual’s workspace is physically moved away from others, such as into a different room.
Gossip in the workplace is common. However, many of those who partake in mobbing take it further and spread rumours that are intended to be malicious about an individual. This gossip may take the form of slander or lies, or it may be designed to reveal personal information about an individual that they would prefer others not to know.
Stonewalling or being ignored
Another form of mobbing, stonewalling, occurs when an individual’s suggestions, requests for feedback, reports, and so on are ignored by their colleagues and superiors. This can be hugely frustrating in the workplace and lead to an individual feeling that they are being completely disregarded.
How common is mobbing in the workplace?
According to a study by the University of Manchester cited by TUC, 1 in 4 respondents reported that they had experienced bullying in the workplace in the last five years. This shows that workplace bullying and harassment are huge issues that affect many individuals and businesses.
It’s impossible to say how many cases of workplace bullying involve mobbing, but the negative repercussions can have a big impact upon the victim, the business, and those that witness it.
Why does mobbing in the workplace happen?
There are several theories and reasons behind the concept of mobbing in the workplace. Below are a few examples that may be cited as reasons, either independently or as a combination.
Maintaining the status quo
The perpetrators of mobbing may be concerned about a colleague who is disrupting the status quo somehow. For example, they may be outperforming other employees or trying to change a long-established feature of the business. In response to this, which they perceive as a threat, the perpetrators resort to bullying to try and sabotage their co-worker or force them to stop what they are doing.
Many mobbing targets are highly competent, productive, skilled, and professional workers. Instead of seeing them as an asset to the team, the perpetrators of mobbing may become jealous and use bullying behaviour to drive the victim out of the organisation or become less competent at their role.
Pushing employees out
On the other hand, employees who are not as competent in their roles as other team members may also be victims of mobbing. Perpetrators may turn to bullying as a group in order to force someone out of the business that they feel is underperforming. This is especially common in companies from which it is difficult to fire an employee.
More personal reasons
Unfortunately, the reason for mobbing may be that the ringleader or whole group have bullying personalities or personal issues that push them towards tormenting a co-worker. Or, the group may join in out of fear that if they do not, they too will become victims of bullying.
The negative effects of mobbing
Like any form of bullying in the workplace, Mobbing can have negative implications for individuals and businesses alike. For example:
The victims of mobbing may experience physical and emotional symptoms resulting from it, such as anxiety, depression, stress, trouble sleeping, panic attacks, and more. Their performance at work may also decrease, leading to disciplinary action or even termination. Victims may also feel isolated, belittled, humiliated, or experience low self-esteem. Furthermore, their professional reputation may be hindered if the gossip perpetrators spread reaches others in the wider industry.
Other co-workers who witness the mobbing but do not participate in it may also face negative repercussions. For example, they may feel fear or anxiety that they will be the next target or simply have to face working in an environment that feels hostile and tolerates bullying behaviour. This can lead to a decrease in productivity across the board.
Mobbing can also affect the business itself. If a business tolerates bullying, they usually experience a high staff turnover as individuals do not want to work for a business with a poor company culture. Furthermore, their reputation may be damaged amongst customers and the industry if the word begins to spread outside of the company about mobbing incidents.
What can organisations do to prevent mobbing?
Every organisation has a duty of care towards their employees to ensure they are safe and free from bullying in the workplace. And, by putting measures in place to prevent bullying behaviours such as mobbing from occurring in the first place, a business can save time and money in the future. Things that workplaces can do to prevent mobbing include:
Leading by example
Anyone in a position of management in a business should be expected to lead by example. This means that they should never exhibit any bullying behaviour nor encourage others to do so. It should be made clear to managers that they will be expected to lead by example, and any bullying incidents will be dealt with seriously.
Checking in with employees
In most organisations, managers will have regular one-to-one meetings with employees to assess their progress and work. However, to prevent mobbing, these conversations should also focus on how each employee feels about their working environment, how they fit in, and any concerns about others and their behaviour. This will allow the business to deal with potential problems before they become more significant issues.
Policies and complaints
Every business should have a solid anti-harassment policy that is firm on the fact that bullying of any kind will not be permitted in the workplace. All employees should be aware of this policy and the potential repercussions if bullying behaviours are exhibited. Furthermore, there should be a clear complaints procedure that every employee knows about within the organisation. This should make it simple for any employee to complain if they are a victim of, or have witnessed, bullying in the workplace.
Is mobbing illegal in the UK?
You may be surprised to learn that bullying, and by extension mobbing, is not against the law in itself. However, the mobbing offences could be considered harassment which is illegal under:
- The Protection from Harassment Act 1997; and
- If the mobbing was as a result of a protected characteristic, under the Equality Act 2010.
A protected characteristic is any of the following:
- Your age
- Your sex
- Gender reassignment
- Sexual orientation
- Religion or beliefs
Mobbing would count as harassment under the Equality Act if it is because of a protected characteristic and meant to create a degrading, humiliating, hostile, intimidating, or offensive environment, or it violates your dignity. Furthermore, even if an act is not meant to make you feel this way, it can still count as harassment if it has the effect of doing so.
What to do if you’ve been a victim of mobbing
If you have been a victim of mobbing, there are several actions you can take.
Firstly, you should always keep a record of any incidents, detailing what happened, the time, and the place. This may also include any screenshots of emails and other electronic communication.
Your second course of action should be talking to your employer. For example, you could speak with a manager, HR personnel, or your union rep if you have one- whoever you feel most comfortable talking to and is not participating in the mobbing themselves. Your employer should have a clear policy on what to do in these situations.
From here, the matter may be able to be resolved internally. If not, your next step should be to make a formal complaint through your employer’s grievance procedure. This is usually found in your employee handbook. But, if you are unsure, your HR department should be able to assist. However, if the mobbing still continues, you may want to seek the advice of a solicitor, who will be able to talk you through your further options.
If mobbing ever includes any threats of violence or death, or includes stalking behaviour, you should call the police immediately.
Can I take legal action as a victim of workplace bullying?
In some cases, you may be able to take legal action against your employer as a result of mobbing:
- Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997; and
- If the mobbing was as a result of a protected characteristic, under the Equality Act 2010.
Taking legal action should not be your first step to combat mobbing. You should try to resolve it through other methods, such as raising a formal complaint, first. Indeed, you will need to demonstrate that you have tried to do this before initiating the court or tribunal process. However, sometimes other methods are not enough, and legal action may be the logical next step.
If you feel that you are unable to continue your employment because of the mobbing, you may be able to bring about a claim of unfair dismissal at a tribunal. In order to do so, you will need to have experienced harassment as defined by the Equality Act 2010, and have worked for the business for 24 months or more.
Navigating the tribunal or court process can be difficult. So, it’s essential to have a professional solicitor by your side who is an expert in this often-complex area of law. They’ll be able to advise you on what you should do, and what is likely to get the best outcome for you.
If you have been a victim of mobbing and would like to seek legal advice, or you believe you have a case for a claim in the county court or employment tribunal, Setfords can help. Our experienced employment solicitors will be able to advise you on the possible next steps and help you to get the most favourable outcome. Please get in touch today to discuss how we can assist you.