Bullying and Harassment

by Andrew Wood

What is bullying and harassment?

The terms bullying and harassment are often regarded as interchangeable and tend to involve behaviour which harms, intimidates, threatens, victimises, undermines, offends, degrades or humiliates. The behaviour may be deliberate or perhaps just misplaced and can occur over a period of time or appear as one solitary event.

Bullying does not have a specific legal definition. However, it is viewed as offensive, insulting, malicious or intimidating behaviour or an abuse of power, by one or more persons, which undermines an individual’s confidence, self-esteem and right to dignity.

Dictionary definition

Bully –n. (pl. –ies v.-ies -ied)

Person coercing others by fear. Persecute or oppress by force or threats.

Harassment has been specifically linked to anti-discrimination laws in the following areas: sex, race, religion or belief, age, sexual orientation and disability. Within these laws, harassment has been given a standard definition, as follows:

A person subjects another to harassment where they engage in unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating that other person’s dignity, or create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

Dictionary definition

Harass –n.

Trouble and annoy continually. Make repeated attacks on.

Bullying and harassment typically stem from an abuse of power (status or physical) and are often carried out in public, as the majority of bullies act in this way in order to achieve a misguided notion of authority. This behaviour can, however, be much harder to spot when carried out in a subtle manner, where the perpetrator appears outwardly pleasant and friendly. These subtler operators may isolate weaker people and slowly create an environment in which the victim feels undermined and gradually loses confidence.


It has been estimated that workplace bullying affects up to 50 per cent of the UK workforce at some time in their working lives.