Pay Inequality – a Form of Bullying in the Workplace?


The BBC has been back in the news this month following the damaging revelations regarding the inequality of pay between male and female presenters. 

It is alleged that the BBC forced presenters to form companies and treat themselves as freelancers, resulting in them being left with very little employment protection involving matters such as holiday or sick pay.

Kirsty Lang, presenter of the Art Programme Front Row since 2004, gave evidence to the Commons Cultural Committee in which she stated that all her worst fears came true when she was moved onto a new contract.

She stated that she was unable to take bereavement leave; “In fact, I went back and did my first show even before [her step-daughter’s] funeral, because I had to get some money in”.

She went on to state that “…and then two years after that, I was diagnosed with Cancer.  I had surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy. I worked the whole way through”.

In response to the comments made at the Commons Culture Committee, the BBC said in their statement that “they always try to balance our responsibility to presenters with our responsibility to suspend the licence fee appropriately”.

Employers should be aware that there are many definitions of bullying. According to the ACAS advice leaflet on Bullying and Harassment at Work, bullying may be categorised as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of powerful means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate, or injure the recipient”.

The ACAS guide states that “it is good practice for employers to give examples of what is unacceptable behaviour in their organisation” and this may include the following:

  • Spreading malicious rumours or insulting someone by word or behaviour;
  • Copying memos that are critical about someone to others who do not need to know;
  • Ridiculing or demeaning someone, picking on them or setting them up to fail;
  • Exclusion or victimisation;
  • Unfair treatment;
  • Overbearing supervision or another misuse of power or position;
  • Making threats or comments about job security that are foundation;
  • Deliberately undermining a competent worker for overloading competent criticism;
  • Preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities.

Bullying in the workplace can lead to poor morale, poor performance, loss of productivity and resignations.

Furthermore, an employee who believes that they have been bullied, may resign and claim constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal, citing a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence.

Employers should be aware that, generally speaking, they are responsible in law for the acts of their workers.

According to ACAS, employers should first consider framing a workplace policy which deals with bullying; that highlights that bullying is unlawful and will not be tolerated, examples of unacceptable behaviour and that bullying will be treated as a disciplinary offence.

Employers should set a good example and maintain fair procedures for dealing promptly with complaints from employees. Employers should also set a standard of behaviour to make it easier for individuals to be fully aware of the responsibilities to others and that complaints of bullying will be dealt with fairly, confidentially and sensitively.

As an employer, it is advisable to familiarise yourself with the ACAS advice leaflet on Bullying and Harassment at Work – A Guide for Managers and Employers.


If you would like to understand more about your legal responsibility as an employer around bullying in the workplace, or if you are an employee that is currently experiencing a form of bullying in your working environment, please contact our Employment Department for a free initial telephone consultation. Call on 01708 229444 or email us using our contact form.This article was written by Alexander Pearce, Employment Law Associate at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of March 2018.


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