Wednesday, 14 June 2023 16:54

How Low is the Bullying Threshold?

When former Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab resigned a couple of months ago, one of the comments included within his resignation was that "in setting the threshold for bullying so low, this inquiry has set a dangerous precedent". This was in response to the fact that the inquiry upheld just two out of eight allegations of bullying behaviour against Mr Raab.

The investigating barrister of the inquiry, Adam Tolley KC, concluded that “a description of bullying had been met” when MR Raab was on post; but is that enough? We’ve presided over quite a few cases for our clients over the years where there have been allegations of bullying, and we think that simply relying on a description probably isn’t adequate.

There are times when bullying behaviour is very obvious. We tend to think of it as intimidation, shouting, and swearing at others, but it can also take the form of the exclusion of individuals or undermining them. We should also consider the context of the allegation and different individuals’ perceptions.

Mr Raab was accused of being demanding to the point where it became intimidating, although there was never any reports that he had shouted at anyone nor swore or used bad language. So, can having high expectations of others be classed as bullying? Is that where the threshold lies?

Obviously, we don’t know the full and exact details of what went on, but addressing inadequate performance may at times require a balance of providing constructive feedback while maintaining a supportive work environment. We should also remember that those in positions of power and seniority must be aware of the impact that their behaviour has on others.

If we are faced with an underperformer then, we should take a measured approach in order to avoid any allegations of bullying. There’s nothing wrong with expecting an individual to meet the standards of the job you are paying them to do, we may just need to deal with it in a constructive and consistent way:

  • We recommend regular one-to-one meetings and performance reviews and these are perfect opportunities to address under-performance. Should you need to speak outside of these meetings however, do so privately and not in front of the individual’s colleagues.

  • Never be personal. Make sure you have facts and examples that can back up your concerns and focus on the issue, whether that is performance or behaviour. Don’t make any derogatory comments.Remain supportive. You’ve already invested in your employee so it’s better that they perform. Let them know that you want to help them achieve.

  • Make sure you let them have an opportunity to speak and express any concerns or issues they have. Don’t close them down and actively listen and respond to whatever they say to prove you have heard them and understand their viewpoint. If there is something small or easy that you can do to provide a quick-win, action it to demonstrate your support.

  • Agree a solution together that is acceptable to both parties. Don’t dictate your solution. By agreeing a way to move forward you will get buy-in from the employee and will also have something that has been agreed by both of you against which they can be held to account.

  • Be open minded to providing any resources that might be required, such as training or software. Show willingness to provide support to continue to develop the individual.

  • Make notes and ensure the employee agrees that they are a true reflection of the meeting. Document the key points and agree an action plan that can be referred to in future meetings.

Remember, the aim is to address performance whilst remaining professional and respectful. Focusing on behaviour and/or performance, maintain open communication, and offer support.

Our Dignity at Work workshops are a good place to start and they are beneficial for employees and managers; reminding staff about behavioural expectations and respect for others. Call us for more information on 01452 331331 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Read 651 times Last modified on Wednesday, 14 June 2023 17:22


HR Champions provide first class HR and Employment Law support and advice to UK businesses; operationally and strategically. If you're an employer you'll potentially need some, if not all, of the services we offer.

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