Pharmacist Support

Registered Charity Number: 1158974
Manchester, Greater Manchester

Bullying doesn’t end in the playground

Date Posted: 14 Nov 2011

The team at Pharmacist Support describe the impact of workplace bullying in the sector and offer up some words of advice.

The C D Salary Survey 2011 found that 12 per cent of the employee pharmacists surveyed experienced bullying at work. This struck a chord with the team at Pharmacist Support who have seen an increase in the number of calls to their own enquiry line from people reporting the problem.
The largest volume of calls came from pre-registration trainees who report issues with tutors, other pharmacists and colleagues.
“We have received calls from trainees in tears because of the way they are being treated at work,” comments Pharmacist Support charity manager Diane Leicester.
“They report being shouted at by colleagues, a lack of support and appropriate training, being asked to do unrelated ‘odd jobs’ around the pharmacy, or to work long hours. Because of the vulnerable situation that these trainees are in they are loathe to take action because they are worried about the impact this may have on their placement and indeed their future work.”
This experience does not appear to be unique to pharmacy however.  A report by the BMA cited “It has been argued that training is often seen as an ’initiation rite’ into medicine, justifying the bullying and harassment that is often a feature of undergraduate medical culture”
Other research has revealed that bullying is more likely in work environments where there is a high customer service orientation, where workloads are increasing, there is uncertainty about future employment and long hours are being worked.  It has also been described as a defence people resort to when under stress. The current recession is thought to have exacerbated the problem as a fear of job losses creates competition and rivalry amongst peers.
The most common reported forms of bullying and harassment behaviour include attempts to belittle and undermine work, withholding necessary information, freezing out, ignoring or exclusion, undue pressure to produce work, shifting the goal posts, undervaluing efforts at work, demoralising behaviour, removal of areas of responsibility without consultation and setting impossible deadlines.
Many people are unclear as to what defines bullying. Acas  – an organisation who aim to improve working life - describe bullying as:
Bullying and harassment means any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or degraded or humiliated or offended. It is not necessarily always obvious or apparent to others, so it can happen in the workplace without an employer’s awareness.

Bullying or harassment can be between two individuals or it may involve groups of people. It might be obvious or it might be insidious. It may be persistent or an isolated incident. It can also occur in written communications, by phone, email not just face-to-face actions.
The difference between bullying and harassment is that harassment is unwanted conduct which is related to one of the following: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
Bullying can not only affect those being harassed or bullied, it can also have an effect on co-workers and from an employer perspective can lead to rising levels of absenteeism, premature ill-health and retirement, de-motivation, high levels of staff turnover and can also damage an organisations reputation. For the individual it can impact on their sleep, appetite, lead to migraines/severe headaches and mood swings.
Often the victims of bullying don’t speak out – they do not feel able or confident enough to complain, sometimes from fear of losing their job, and in some cases even blaming themselves for the bully’s behaviour. It may be a case that they are not clear on what protection they have and are entitled to.
Your legal rights
Pharmacist Support contacted their specialist advice team at Manchester Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) for a legal perspective. Here’s what they had to say:
In spite of the prevalence of workplace bullying and the fact that it has, almost without exception, a devastating effect on the employee’s mental and physical health, there is no specific legislation in the UK dealing with the issue.
However, possible claims against an employer can be made utilising several areas of law.  The three main areas are:
1 Discrimination – where the bullying takes the form of direct or indirect discrimination, a complaint to an employment tribunal can be brought against the employer, even while the employee is still working. 
2 Unfair/constructive dismissal - if the employee has been forced to resign due to the effects of bullying or feels that they have been dismissed as a result of a complaint in relation to bullying, the person is entitled to lodge a claim to the employment tribunal for constructive unfair dismissal.
3 The Protection from Harassment Act 1977 and breach of contract law can also be used to make claims against an employer who has failed in their duty of care to protect their employees from ill-treatment.
“In our experience” says CAB adviser Marsha Healy, “it is crucially important to our clients that they do have remedies in law to redress the wrong done to them but they also find great relief in the fact that they are finally being listened to and being taken seriously.
“One of our clients told us: ‘I was in tears every day, I felt constantly humiliated and undermined and this had a terrible effect on my health and my family relationships.  I resigned from my job because I felt that I had no choice and whatever the final outcome of my case, I can now begin to get my life back together as someone has validated what happened to me and is seeking justice on my behalf.’”
Beat the bullies
So what should you do if you find yourself feeling bullied or harassed?
The key is to get advice and keep a record of all incidents. Contact your union, talk to colleagues to find out if they are suffering too or if they have witnessed any of the bullying. If you are able to, talk to the person responsible – they may be unaware that their actions are causing you distress.
You can also contact Pharmacist Support who can provide assistance in a number of ways:
·       via specialist advice from our CAB advisers - who can provide specialist employment advice to employees, for example, pharmacists have been helped to recover unlawful deductions from wages, have been advised on raising a grievance at work, rights to rest breaks etc
·       via the Listening Friends helpline – a free and confidential listening service staffed by trained volunteer pharmacists.  The service is not restricted to work-related problems but offers support for a variety of stressful situations
·       by signposting to other organisations for further information and support. For people who are experiencing bullying we would recommend:
The ACAS website has some information on bullying. From their bullying and harassment page you can access questions and answers sections for employees and employers, leaflets and explanations of what constitutes bullying and harassment
ACAS also has a free advice helpline that people can call.
The TUC website also has some information on bullying
Pharmacist Support is an independent charity providing free and confidential support services for pharmacists and their families, preregistration trainees, pharmacy students and those retired from the profession. For further information, call the charities enquiry line on 0808 168 2233, or To speak with a Listening Friend call 0808 168 5133.