Will new Bullying and Respect at Work Bill reduce workplace bullying?

On 11 July 2023, Rachael Maskell, Labour and Co-operative MP for York Central, sought leave to introduce the Bullying and Respect at Work Bill (‘the Bill’) intended to protect workers from bullying in the workplace.  If successful, the Bill will close a gap in legislation which currently makes it difficult for workers without a protected characteristic to seek restitution for workplace bullying.

Ms Maskell presented the private members’ bill, which has received cross-party support, to break the cycle of, and provide a legal definition of, bullying at work.  When highlighting the extent of the problem, she referred to a report by the TUC that bullying is the second biggest workplace issue, that 29% of workers will experience workplace bullying at some point and that one in 10 has experienced it in the past six months.  She further referred to the lack of access and redress for victims of bullying and stated that 53% of those bullied never report it – referring to there being no point in doing so if it exposes the victim further in circumstances where there is no legal protection.[i]

As Ms Maskell correctly stated, workers have limited recourse when subjected to bullying in the workplace, unless they have a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (‘the Act’) (such as sex, race etc.), which provides a route to seek remedy for harassment.  If a worker is not protected under the Act, they can either bring a civil claim under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (‘the 1997 Act’) or resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.  Claims under the 1997 Act are costly and difficult to be successful in.  To bring a claim for constructive unfair dismissal, a claimant (who must be an employee) must resign, putting them in a situation where they are unemployed and have no earnings.  This is rarely an attractive option when the thresholds for such claims are high and take time to reach a conclusion.  Further, in most cases, an employee must have more than two years’ service to bring such a claim.

If successful, the Bill will:

  • provide for a statutory definition of bullying at work;
  • enable claims relating to workplace bullying to be considered by an employment tribunal;
  • provide for a Respect at Work Code to set minimum standards for position and respectful work environments;
  • give power to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate and take enforcement action against workplaces where there is evidence of a culture of, or multiple incidents of, bullying.

We will provide further updates as the Bill passes through Parliament.  If you require any advice in relation to the above, please contact a member of the AfterAthena team.


[i] Hansard HC Deb. vol. 736, 11 July 2023 [Online]. [Accessed 12 July 2023]. Available from: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2023-07-11/debates/7435C28E-7F68-4747-BD9C-EDCA0824B2AD/BullyingAndRespectAtWork.