Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review
of Best Practices and Research
Patricia A. Ferris, Ria Deakin, and Shayne Mathieson
1 Introduction ................................................................................... 2
2 Best Practice Recommendations .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . 4
2.1 Policy Design Process: Parties Involved and Scope .. . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . 4
2.2 Policy Content: Stated Purpose, Deﬁnition and Example Behaviours .. . . .. . . . . . . . . . . 4
2.3 Policy Content: Resolution Options ................................................... 7
2.4 Time Frame . ............................................................................ 8
2.5 Policy Accessibility ..................................................................... 8
2.6 Monitoring and Review .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
2.7 Supporting Practices to Aid Effective Implementation .. . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . 9
3 Workplace Bullying Policies and the Role of Law . . ........................................ 10
3.1 Anti-bullying Law and Policy Processes: Content and Implementation .. ............ 11
3.2 Enforcement .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
4 Evidence of Policy Effectiveness .. .......................................................... 12
4.1 Do Organizations Develop Effective Anti-bullying Policies? .. . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
4.2 Building Awareness: Studies of Effectiveness in Communicating the Policy . . . . . . . . 14
4.3 Implementing the Policy: Organizational Support .. ................................... 15
4.4 What Would Make Policy More Effective? Thoughts from
Research and Practice .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
4.5 Case Example ........................................................................... 17
5 Recommendations for Further Research .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
6 Discussion and Conclusion ................................................................... 19
P. A. Ferris (*)
Janus Associates Psychological Services, Calgary, AB, Canada
Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK
Top Drawer Consultants, Auckland, New Zealand
#Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018
P. D’Cruz et al. (eds.), Dignity and Inclusion at Work, Handbooks of Workplace
Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment 3,
Appendix: Spotlight on Contact Person Networks .............................................. 20
Potential Challenges .. . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . ............................................ 21
Conﬁdentiality ............................. ................................................ ... 21
Defamation .................................................................................... 22
Cross-References .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Cross-References to Other Volumes .............................................................. 23
References .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . 23
Since the introduction of the concept of workplace bullying (WPB), there has
been a great deal of scientiﬁc and popular press literature building awareness of
the concept and the need for protection of employees in the workplace. WPB
policies provide a crucial part of this employee protection. The presence and
content of WPB policies may be prescribed by law, but in many countries, this is
not the case. Nevertheless, as policies have been developed, tried and tested
through complaints, grievance procedures and court cases, best practices have
been studied and introduced.
These developments notwithstanding, the research on the effectiveness of
WPB policies lags behind research on best practices. For example, WPB policies
have been suggested to act as a preventive strategy through raising awareness, yet
the literature examining implementation and awareness penetration of WPB
policies is currently very limited. This chapter explores the extant literature on
the need for WPB policies, the relationship between law and policies and the best
practice content and practices associated with developing WPB policies. It also
provides reference information helpful in developing practical and effective
policies and reviews current research examining the impact and effectiveness of
WPB policies and governance practices. The chapter sets out a research agenda
for the future to address gaps in the literature. Finally, it acknowledges that WPB
policies are only one of a range of interventions and initiatives required to address
this concern and outline other methods of prevention and remediation.
Workplace bullying (WPB) is now a recognized serious psychosocial hazard which
many organizations are seeking to address through comprehensive programmes.
Legislative requirements are also increasing, requiring organizations to tackle, through
policy and procedure, the harmful impact on the individual and the organization. WPB
is often seen as an individual problem and not an organizational one. However, many
researchers refute this, arguing that bullying should indeed be viewed as an organiza-
tional problem, thus requiring commitment from all levels of the organization (Lutgen-
Sandvik, Namie, & Namie, 2009; Zapf, Knorz, & Kulla, 1996).
As an organizational problem, interpersonal bullying is believed to be more
crippling for employees than all other work-related stressors combined and therefore
represents an extreme stressor (Zapf, Knorz, & Kulla, 1996; see also a recent meta-
2 P. A. Ferris et al.
analysis reviewing the range of impacts of bullying by Nielsen, Tangen, Idsoe,
Matthiesen, & Magerøy, 2015).
In light of such severe symptoms, organizations use a range of interventions to
address WPB (Vartia & Leka, 2011), including primary interventions (e.g. policy
and training), secondary interventions (e.g. informal attempts at resolution, griev-
ance processes and target support) and tertiary interventions (e.g. counselling and
psychotherapy). Recognizing that WPB policies may represent only part of a
comprehensive organizational approach to addressing bullying, this chapter will
touch on primary, secondary and tertiary interventions as relevant. However, the
main focus will be on primary interventions and organization-level policy, and
therefore, unless otherwise stated, “policy”refers to organization-level WPB policy.
Early writing on WPB policies described the important elements of policy and
offered guidance on writing an effective policy (e.g. Advisory Conciliation and
Arbitration Service (ACAS), 1999; Davenport, Schwartz, & Elliott, 1999; Rayner,
1998, Richards & Daley, 2003). A policy serves to provide a statement of organi-
zational commitment to a healthy workplace: “A policy makes a clear statement
about what an organization thinks, its relationship with staff and how it expects
people to work within its culture”(Richards & Daley, 2003, p. 247). A policy
should, therefore, be an employer’s statement of intent and a summary of processes
as regards bullying and harassment (Rayner & Lewis, 2011).
In addition to a statement indicating bullying will not be tolerated by the
organization, policies could provide a list of behaviours that may be considered as
bullying and outline the steps that employees who feel they are being bullied can
take. A WPB policy may also identify the resources available to all parties, for
example, alleged targets and perpetrators, witnesses and managers tasked with
addressing such behaviour. In practice, the content and scope of policies vary across
organizations. WPB may not be the subject of a stand-alone policy (Rayner & Lewis,
2011); it may instead be incorporated into a broader code of conduct or dignity at
work policy, and/or options for raising a complaint and the consequences of doing so
may be linked to other policies (e.g. on grievance and discipline).
For policies to be seen as effective, there is an assumption that workplace policy
would indeed be followed by those charged with the policy implementation and thus
reduce the impact and the incidence of actual bullying.
However, recognizing that this assumption is not always a safe one, this chapter
explores the need to acknowledge the policy process: how to develop, implement
and monitor workplace policies on WPB to ensure policies actually have an impact
and reduce the incidence of WPB. To develop understanding, the discussion of
policy needs to go further than the content. It is necessary to talk about the policy
process before addressing the effectiveness of WPB policy in general. The question
is, therefore, not just what should a policy contain but rather “how effective are WPB
The purpose of this chapter is, therefore, to review factors thought to inﬂuence
and manage the emergence and management of WPB, to review the existing
literature examining the effectiveness of WPB policies, to make recommendation
for effective policies based on the research and ﬁnally to suggest a research agenda to
further examine the effectiveness of WPB policies.
Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review of Best Practices and Research on... 3
2 Best Practice Recommendations
This section identiﬁes and outlines six key features of WPB policies identiﬁed from
current thinking on best practice. Within these features, it also introduces a number
of additional issues and best practice related to the processes that help to ensure
policies are effective.
2.1 Policy Design Process: Parties Involved and Scope
When developing policy, it is recommended that a small group representing a broad
range of stakeholders be involved, for example, senior management, union, human
resources (HR), occupational health and safety (OHS), worker representatives and
possibly consultants (Rayner & Lewis, 2011; Richards & Daley, 2003). This process
of consulting is as important as policy contents (Einarsen & Hoel, 2008; Leka et al.,
2008; Richards & Daley, 2003). The requirement to consult may be contained in law
or other external jurisdictional guidance (see the following paragraph).
There is debate about whether a policy should be stand-alone or be included in
other, broader policies. Rayner and Lewis (2011) identify three possibilities that
range from a speciﬁc policy to broader inclusion in other policies: (a) speciﬁc policy,
(b) combined with a broader harassment policy or (c) included in an even broader
dignity at work policy which examines situations where dignity and respect have
been alleged to be violated. Bullying may also be included in organizational codes of
conduct. Cowan (2011) and Lutgen-Sandvik, Namie and Namie (2009) advocate a
stand-alone policy because it communicates the seriousness of the problem and
leadership commitment to addressing it. Similar discussions are evident in the sexual
harassment ﬁeld; see, for example, Joubert, Van Wyk and Rothmann (2011) who
state that though general policies may be too vague, they may be preferred because
they are used by more complainants and are more widely used. Further, general
policies may be seen as fairer as the policy protects everybody, not just speciﬁc
groups (as is the case with more speciﬁc policies).
The authors of this chapter propose that decision-making around the use of a
general or speciﬁc policy should be done in a way that reﬂects legislative require-
ments or guidance in the relevant jurisdictions, is informed by metrics (e.g. the
number of reports of WPB, arbitrations and court cases experienced by an organi-
zation) and is made by a WPB policy committee or at the very least in consultation
with employee representatives.
2.2 Policy Content: Stated Purpose, Definition and Example
The purpose of a WPB policy should be clearly stated and should reference
organizational core values. It should also include a statement that supports the
normality of conﬂict, debate and difference of opinions (Duffy, 2009). Richards
4 P. A. Ferris et al.
and Daley (2003) state that all policies should begin with a statement of commitment
to the policy. They argue such statements provide power and legitimacy of the
2.2.1 Zero-Tolerance Statements
A controversial element of establishing commitment is developing a zero-tolerance
policy. Organizations may have a hard time implementing zero tolerance because
such policies may violate employee rights. Lucero and Allen (2006) reviewed
arbitration on workplace violence and found the punishment resulting from zero-
tolerance policy implementation to be too harsh; they further found enforcement of
such policies can create a tension between managers and employees. Stockdale,
Bisom-Rapp, O’Connor and Gutek (2004), writing in the sexual harassment ﬁeld,
state that zero-tolerance policies have three problems: (a) lack of consistent deﬁni-
tion and meaning, (b) pitfalls such as a backlash and standards that are too high to
realistically achieve and (c) lack of empirical evidence for improving the workplace
climate. Following on their discussion, they recommend that employers provide
leadership in modelling respectful workplaces. The same issues can apply to the
implementation of zero-tolerance policies in WPB. If zero-tolerance policies are
developed, it is critical to strike a balance between enforcement, safety and fairness
(Lucero & Allen, 2006). For example, zero tolerance does not necessarily mean
termination of the perpetrator, despite the potential to be interpreted in this manner
by some. It does, however, mean that every incidence must be taken seriously. As an
alternative to a zero-tolerance statement, perhaps a statement of commitment to a
bullying-free environment would be more effective.
WPB may also be known by a number of other names. Johnson, Boutain, Tsia and de
Castro (2015) studied the language used in US (United States) WPB policies. They
found that the discussion of WPB overlapped with other behaviours considered
disruptive, suggesting a lack of clarity in deﬁnition of the concept. The authors of
this chapter suggest that a committee or organization should examine local legisla-
tion, guidance and common practices in their countries before choosing a term and
deﬁnition. The relationship between law and WPB policy is considered in more
detail below. The possible variance and the lack of a deﬁnitive/consensual list of
WPB behaviours make it hard for organizations to respond to WPB (Duffy, 2009;
Rayner & Lewis, 2011)—although various lists are available (see Duffy (2009)on
example behaviours and Nielsen, Notelaers and Einarsen (2011) on WPB measure-
ment instruments, as well as model documents, e.g. those developed by SafeWork
Australia). As such, Rayner and Lewis (2011) suggest a broad deﬁnition to prevent
the policy from becoming outdated.
While policy deﬁnitions need to be practical, Rayner and Lewis (2011) also
suggest that the operational deﬁnition reﬂect and be updated according to research.
Duffy (2009) suggests that a statement including a reference that debate and
diversity of opinion are encouraged be included to provide reassurance that the
policy is not meant to silence employees. Caution should be taken, however, in
Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review of Best Practices and Research on... 5
adopting too broad an approach, as implementing the policy may be problematic due
to a lack of deﬁnition over what falls under the policy and, therefore, which
complaints should be upheld.
Deﬁnitions of bullying in organizational policies should consider deﬁnitions
provided in any legislation or associated documentation/guidance in the relevant
jurisdiction. All behaviours need to be considered against the key elements of
harassment and bullying on a case-by-case basis. Key elements may include the
legitimacy of the behaviour, the impact on the recipient, the repetition of the
behaviour and the level of harm to the recipient. While there can never be a deﬁnitive
list of bullying behaviours, illustrative examples can be useful in helping employees
to understand what may be considered as bullying. Accordingly, organizations
should seek to include examples of bullying behaviour to guide conduct rather
than describing characteristics of people who may bully others (Richards & Daley,
As part of examples of bullying, cyberbullying should be considered for inclusion
in the policy. According to UNISON (2013), 8 out of 10 workers said that they had
experienced one occasion of cyberbullying in the last 6 months and 14–20% said
they had experienced it on a weekly basis. West, Foster, Levin, Edmison and
Robibero’s(2014) review of organizational policies showed that cyberbullying
was poorly covered in various organizational policies, and they thus recommend
that cyberbullying be given coverage in organizational policy.
The policy should also describe positive behaviours and expectations of bound-
aries in working relationships (Chartered Institute of Professional Development
(CIPD), 2006). The range of actors should also be identiﬁed. For example, bullying
of workers can occur from customers, suppliers, contractors as well as co-workers
(D’Cruz & Noronha, 2016), though speciﬁc guidelines on this may exist in legisla-
tion or guidance. It may also be “upwards”, meaning that bullying is not always
perpetrated by a more senior employee to a more junior employee but can cross all
hierarchical levels of an organization (Patterson, Branch, Barker, & Ramsay, 2018).
Where the provision around deﬁnition and bullying behaviour in legal and
guidance materials exists, this must be followed. Where it is lacking or
non-existent, however, it may be beneﬁcial to look at various survey instruments
of WPB to identify bullying behaviours (see Nielsen, Notelaers and Einarsen (2011)
for a review of these instruments). Additionally, in the absence of a jurisdictional
deﬁnition, assistance may be found in the following deﬁnition developed by the third
author. This has four key elements, namely, (1) behaviour that is not legitimate,
which is (2) unwanted by the recipient and is (3) repeated or so signiﬁcant such that
(4) there is a detrimental effect to the recipient’s well-being. Many deﬁnitions use
elements 2–4 only, which allows recipients of legitimate performance management
to claim they have been harassed, when in fact the alleged offending behaviour has
been wholly warranted from the organization’s perspective, due to the employee’s
underperformance. This deﬁnition requires that all elements are met, making it
clearer to uphold (or not) harassment complaint investigation.
6 P. A. Ferris et al.
2.3 Policy Content: Resolution Options
Where there is a WPB policy, this may contain details about the steps to be taken and
possible resolution options, or it may make reference to other related policies, for
example, a grievance procedure. In determining what will assist with policy effec-
tiveness, both interest-based and rights-based options should be considered. For
example, some complainants will only accept a direct formal approach such as
investigation and adjudication and severe disciplinary action (rights based), while
others will accept an interest-based approach such as mediation or avoidance
A policy may, therefore, include a range of possible resolution options that can be
pursued. The resolution choices may make reference to other policies, for example, a
grievance policy or a whistle-blowing policy. The availability of options may be
determined by the nature and severity of the behaviours. A policy should stipulate
where further information and assistance about pursuing a resolution under the
policy can be found (e.g. by contacting harassment advisers).
The best outcomes in the authors’experience consider issues in relation to the
three parties in a complaint: the complainant, the respondent and the organization.
For a complainant, outcomes might include an apology, through to monetary
compensation, reinstatement of leave taken as a result of the offending behaviour,
training, coaching and/or counselling. For a respondent, it may include disciplinary
action, up to and including dismissal, or lower-level outcomes such as coaching,
training and mentoring. Organizational outcomes may include changes in policies
and procedures, training programmes for staff and managers and monitoring of the
parties’behaviours. Options suggested in a policy should account for this diversity.
2.3.1 Informal Resolution Options
The authors suggest that employees should be encouraged but not mandated to
approach the person they feel is bullying them directly. The skill required to
approach this person may be part of employee training. Glendinning (2001) and
Sheehan (1999) recommend that alleged bullies should be notiﬁed that their behav-
iour is unacceptable and offered training to improve skills. Duffy (2009) recom-
mends facilitated dialogue to address and resolve WPB while maintaining the
dignity of all. Duffy includes alternative dispute resolution in informal processes,
which includes mediation and a written agreement. The use of mediation to address
bullying is controversial and may not always be appropriate (Deakin, 2014; Keashly
& Nowell, 2011); therefore, when deciding to include its use in a policy, caution
should be exercised in how this may be utilized in practice.
2.3.2 Formal Resolution Options
Whether detailed in a WPB policy itself or a related one, clear processes for raising
an issue, details of contact people who can advise on the policy and possible options
Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review of Best Practices and Research on... 7
of responses, and forms for lodging a formal WPB complaint or grievance should be
detailed (more information on these aspects is provided in the chapters on com-
plaints and on investigations in this volume). The resolution section of the relevant
policy should detail how an investigation will be conducted, who will conduct the
investigation and how evidence received will be evaluated. It should also set out the
process for appeal (Duffy, 2009). The limits of conﬁdentiality should be discussed as
an investigation needs to seek the truth (Richards & Daley, 2003). A range of
possible trained investigators should be available including union, HR and other
personnel from the organization, as well as having external consultants available for
complex and high-level cases (see Richards and Daley (2003) for examples of
information to be provided when making/receiving a formal complaint). A policy
should provide a statement that due process and conﬁdentiality will be provided to
all parties (Duffy, 2009).
2.4 Time Frame
WPB can produce severe symptoms and traumatize individuals. Therefore, policies
need to include time frames, for the initiation of any investigation process should be
done quickly. Rayner and Lewis (2011) note that if an OHS perspective is taken,
bullying should be reported immediately, whereas if an HR process is followed, a
complaints procedure must be initiated.
It is not easy to mandate a set number of days for completion of the necessary
processes, but these should be completed within a reasonable time and in as short a
period as possible (Duffy, 2009). Consideration should also be given to ensuring
parties are updated throughout the stages of the resolution process. If legislation
exists, it may specify a required time frame for an investigation to be initiated and
2.5 Policy Accessibility
Policy may be distributed in paper form to employees, provided electronically or
hosted on the web and/or displayed within the workplace. There are several other
issues for consideration including the languages the policy may be available in, the
level of literacy of the readers and format preferences. The policy should be available
in at least the ofﬁcial languages of the jurisdiction. If there are signiﬁcant numbers of
employees whose ﬁrst language is other than an ofﬁcial language (e.g. expatriates
and migrant workers, contractors), then it may be advisable to have the policy
available in those languages. A policy should also be written in straightforward
and simple language, without the use of acronyms, so that those with various levels
of education can understand the wording. Attention should also be made to the need
to provide the policy in a way accessible to employees with certain disabilities
(e.g. visual impairments).
8 P. A. Ferris et al.
Workplace harassment and bullying legislation in various jurisdictions may
require that the employer make the employees aware of their rights. For example,
an OHS act from a Canadian jurisdiction requires a current paper or stored electronic
copies of the act be readily available for reference by workers, the formation of a
joint worksite health and safety committee and the appointment of health and safety
representatives (Government of Alberta, 2018). Best practices for policy distribution
therefore include oral communication where there can be discussion and questions
(e.g. in employee training or onboarding with provision of a hard copy). Requiring
new employees to sign that they have read and understood the code of conduct and
the requirements on their standard of behaviour could be helpful in ensuring
employees have an awareness of the policy. Having the policy accessible on the
company website will allow access for those who prefer to read and learn indepen-
dently. Any training material should reference where the policy may be accessed.
Employees should have reminders about the existence of the policy and where to
locate it on an annual basis or when the policy is updated (e.g. in line with any legal
changes). Reminders can take several forms such as email, group and health and
safety discussion, and hard copy memos.
Another opportunity for disseminating and discussing policy can occur when
there is discipline or concern about someone’s behaviour. Reviewing the policy and
providing a copy can supplement corrective action and discussion. A record should
be made when an organization has reviewed policy with an employee and when, and
how, employees have been informed of updates.
2.6 Monitoring and Review
Richards and Daley (2003) state that a failure to monitor policy use and outcomes is
a weakness of most policies, indicating that effective policies, or at least effective
processes around policies, should provide for periodic systematic review. They
suggest that monitoring should be carried out on a long-term basis, annually through
staff attitude surveys, publicizing the number of complaints dealt with, and annually
reviewing the policy. This may be a requirement of local or national law. Other
sources of information that can assist in monitoring and review of policies include
results of staff appraisals, anonymous feedback from counsellors or whistle-blowers,
exit interviews and sickness and absence data.
2.7 Supporting Practices to Aid Effective Implementation
2.7.1 Contact People: A Form of Informal Management Thought to be
Rayner and Lewis (2011) state that, in reality, informal processes often do not work
as fully effective resolution methods. Although the role of contact people is currently
somewhat under-researched, along with advertising their policies and providing
training for managers and staff, many organizations have opted to have designated
Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review of Best Practices and Research on... 9
points of contact for people who have been harassed or bullied; contact persons also
provide a point of contact for others in the organization who wish to be more
informed about the issues. These roles have been advocated by human rights bodies
in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and many countries throughout Europe. Hubert
(2012) cites a 2004 study showing that 90% of companies in the Netherlands with
200+ employees had some sort of conﬁdential support system. “Contact person”
seems to be the more usual terminology in New Zealand and Australia, but many
other terms have been used, such as anti-harassment advisers (defence, World Bank),
listeners (legal ofﬁces), peer support, fair treatment advisers (NHS (National Health
Service), the UK (United Kingdom)), contact ofﬁcers (police) or conﬁdential coun-
sellors (the Netherlands). Whatever the term, the general role is relatively consistent
2.7.2 Training of Contact People
Contact people should be identiﬁed that represent various levels of the organization
and should, where possible, include union contact. Duffy (2009) and Harrington,
Rayner and Warren (2012) suggest that HR may not be the best contact personnel
because they may ultimately have a conﬂict of interest.
Because the contact person may be the ﬁrst person a target may have contact with,
it is a pivotal and critical role. The role of the contact person is one of providing
information to employees, helping them to explore their options, planning their
preferred approach and enabling them to act on that decision. The role of the contact
person is not to advocate on behalf of the target or to intervene or mediate between
the parties. It is not the role of the contact person to take the place of managers. The
purpose is to provide a lower, more informal level of informed assistance, especially
for people whose manager may be the perpetrator of the bullying or harassment or
for those who deem their manager not to be approachable. The sounding board that
the contact person provides allows people to gain perspective on the issues and
therefore to take action (or not) at the most appropriate level.
The contact person is a critical person in implementing the policy and should,
therefore, hold knowledge of the policy, be approachable and be capable of provid-
ing empathy and options towards resolution. A detailed evaluation of contact person
networks is beyond the scope of this chapter. However, as a relevant and potentially
beneﬁcial part of the process around effective implementation of policy, further
details can be found in Appendix.
3 Workplace Bullying Policies and the Role of Law
As indicated above, one dimension of determining the content, appropriateness and
effectiveness of WPB policies may lie in the extent to which policies are embedded
within a legal system. For an overview of national laws on bullying, see Cobb
(2017). The link between policy effectiveness and law is arguably crucial for
understanding the incentive for employers to introduce and comply with policies.
Exploring this link could provide a mechanism for understanding employer motives
10 P. A. Ferris et al.
for ensuring that any policies introduced are effective. In recognizing this, it is
important to acknowledge that it is not sufﬁcient to simply understand whether
anti-bullying law is present in a country, it is also necessary to understand how
this is then translated into practice at the workplace level.
When considering the role of law, it is important to not limit the discussion to
legislation as this obscures the inﬂuence of other sources of law, for example, the role
of the common law (e.g. implied duties in UK employment law). Accordingly, legal
interventions for WPB, where they do exist, vary in their type, scope and positioning
(e.g. anti-discrimination law, health and safety law or common law principles) and
speciﬁcity (e.g. whether WPB is explicitly mentioned). The existence (or otherwise)
of a legal deﬁnition must inform the way bullying is deﬁned in WPB policies. There
is variance in the relationship between law and policies, with some national or
regional laws requiring organizations to have a policy and others providing no
reference to policies. In either instance, guidance about the implementation of the
law and/or content and operation of WPB policies may be provided. This guidance
may explicitly form part of the legal framework, may be provided by state agencies
or may have no binding legal effect or state association.
Therefore, understanding the nature of anti-bullying law is, of itself, not sufﬁcient
to understand the impact its presence (or lack thereof) has on the existence and
effectiveness of workplace-level policies. To understand the inﬂuence of law on
WPB policies, it is important to understand how the law is translated into practice
and how it is operationalized on a day-to-day basis. An exploration of this needs to
include not only the extent to which law prescribes the content of a policy but also
the structures and procedures around it; rather, as stated above, in order to under-
stand the effectiveness of policies, it is important to understand the processes around
the policies. Here, the concern is the degree to which those processes are explicitly
prescribed by law and/or are supplemented by guidance of varying legal effect.
The degree of prescription may be mapped onto a continuum depicted in Fig. 1.
This ranges from a high level of prescription, over both content and process, to an
absence of a legal requirement to implement a policy. Given the complexity around
anti-bullying law, even within a single national context, it may not always be
possible to position a country at a single point along the continuum. Appropriate
placement on the continuum may be contended, but nevertheless, the ﬁgure provides
a broad frame for beginning the often neglected discussion over the relationship
between policy and aspects of anti-bullying law.
3.1 Anti-bullying Law and Policy Processes: Content
Prescriptions as to the processes around the introduction and implementation of
policies are most commonly found in the high and moderate end of the continuum.
Focus is not only on the possible content of the policy but also on how it should be
designed, introduced and operated. Consultation on new policy documents and
changes is a common requirement in health and safety. Canada provides an
Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review of Best Practices and Research on... 11
interesting example, as it calls for the establishment of policy committees and the
involvement of workers (or their representatives) that play a pivotal role in the
design and implementation of policies. The requirement that policies should be
reviewed annually is particularly interesting as it may help to ensure momentum
around the policy does not stagnate. In other instances, details about content and/or
the processes around the policy are set out in associated regulations (e.g. Serbia) or
codes of conduct and guidance (e.g. Sweden).
To understand the role of standards in creating safe environments, crucial for
policy effectiveness, however, it is useful to distinguish between the setting of
standards within an organization and the form these take (in this instance as codiﬁed
through policy) and the ability and responsibility to enforce those standards (Deakin,
2017). This is relevant for effectiveness as it is an important aspect of ensuring
policies are useful instruments and not simply a point of reference for appropriate
conduct. Enforcement requires a shift from looking at the presence of anti-bullying
law and policies as a preventative measure to seeing them as reactive tools, that is, a
means for dealing with WPB once it (allegedly) arises.
Where anti-bullying law is present, the ultimate recourse for enforcement is obviously
through the relevant legal systems. The steps taken to get to that stage do, however,
vary across countries. In as far as all law exists within a particular legal system, it is
necessary to state that the steps for enforcing anti-bullying law are prescribed by law.
In the speciﬁc context of the role of policies, however, it is important to adopt a more
nuanced position. Though tied to the law to varying degrees, policies are ostensibly
workplace-level instruments, and therefore effectiveness should, ideally, lie in action
and enforcements pursued within an organization.
4 Evidence of Policy Effectiveness
The previous sections drew on research and personal experience, on what are
proposed to be best practices and processes that would result in an effective policy.
Nonetheless, research on the effectiveness of such procedures, practices and
Fig. 1 Relationship between anti-bullying law and workplace policies: degree of prescription
12 P. A. Ferris et al.
interventions has lagged behind descriptive studies of WPB. This section discusses
the available evidence of WPB policy effectiveness.
The focus here is on actual studies examining the effectiveness of various
elements of WPB policy rather than statements that indicate the effectiveness of an
element of a policy. Effectiveness studies can be categorized into several different
focuses: (a) reviews of policy effectiveness, (b) the evidence base for anti-bullying
policies, (c) policy communication and impact and (d) organizational representa-
tives’compliance with, and implementation of, the described policy procedures and
their subsequent impact.
4.1 Do Organizations Develop Effective Anti-bullying Policies?
Rayner and McIvor (2008) suggest that an organization without an associated
strategy (e.g. senior management support, recognition of business case for
addressing bullying, management training provision) has a policy that lacks ade-
quate context. They suggest that it is the strategy that gives purpose to a policy.
However, the extent to which a strategic approach reﬂects common practice is
Studies have found that organizations do have anti-bullying policies, although the
extent to which these are embedded and may be seen as effective varies. For
examples, see Richards and Daley (2003); Fevre, Lewis, Robinson and Jones
(2012); and Dix, Davey and Latreille (2012). An online survey study by Salin
(2008) 3 years after the introduction of anti-harassment legislation in Finland
analysing anti-bullying policies (n=205) found that the majority of organizations
(55.6%) had developed policies, another 16.1% reported working on the develop-
ment of a policy, and 27.3% had provided training. Salin also asked for and received
27 copies of WPB policies, which she reports generally followed the existing
relevant recommendations for effective policies. Indeed, she found “cut and paste”
phrases where organizations used the same words from recommendations for policy
development. She concluded that organizations were taking measures against WPB
yet recommended that the imitation process should be studied and that policies
should be tailored to an organization’s needs.
In contrast, Cowan (2011) interviewed 36 HR professionals drawn from an HR
management association in the USA to understand their use of anti-bullying policies.
Her analysis revealed that, while many believed that their organization had policies
that would address bullying, their policies did not use the term “bullying”. Only one
respondent reported the use of the word “bullying”and indicated that the policy
covered speciﬁc bullying behaviours; another indicated bullying fell under the
harassment policy, while others stated they had policies on “rules of conduct”.
Fourteen participants reported not having a policy that would address WPB, and
some participants did not know whether their organization had a policy. Cowan also
examined policy documents provided where 14 of the 16 participants thought their
policies would address bullying. She concluded that the policies “communicated the
idea that anti-bullying measures are not a priority in these organizations...[there was
Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review of Best Practices and Research on... 13
an] utter lack of any reference to bullying in these policies”(Cowan, 2011, p. 317).
She also concluded that the policies communicated the idea that bullying did not rise
to the level of illegal harassment. Finally, she concluded that the policies examined
prohibited certain behaviours such as ﬁghting, threatening violence, making
unfound statements or using vulgar language but did not provide a more extensive
list of bullying behaviours.
Cowan (2011) found that the policies that emphasized protected conditions could
leave an employee with the impression that only those who experienced harassment
based on a protected legal ground would be covered by the policy. She also found
that policies that emphasized respect were too general and ambiguous to be effec-
tively interpreted by an organization. This position contrasted to that of the partic-
ipants who reported that they thought the policies communicated an organizational
expectation of professional behaviour and respect and that the organization cared
about bullying situations and would address bullying complaints. Cowan
recommended that policies should actually use the term “bullying”and that clear
policies directed towards bullying be used. Cowan views this as a method to
empower HR professionals in bullying situations.
Similarly, Hurley, Hutchinson, Bradbury and Browne (2016) used a cross-
sectional study of public employees in Australia to research experiences of WPB.
They found that targets suffered mental distress from exposure, distress which was
exacerbated by failures in prohibitive workplace procedures. They also found that
reporting bullying through formal organizational processes lead to feelings of
powerlessness and mistrust. Organizations should, therefore, ensure that policies
recognize these potential negative feelings and plan accordingly, for example,
providing access to contact people, adhering to any stated timescales and commu-
nicating with targets throughout the process.
4.2 Building Awareness: Studies of Effectiveness
in Communicating the Policy
Using a randomized control design, Hoel and Giga (2006) conducted a 6-month
study to examine the association of interventions (training programmes in three
areas) with reduction in the prevalence of bullying. The research was conducted
across ﬁve organizations, with different groups receiving combinations of three
interventions including a 90-min policy communication, a 3-h stress management
programme and a negative behaviours intervention. They found improvements in
health and well-being for participants but did not ﬁnd an effect for reduction of the
prevalence of bullying.
In a similar study, Pate and Beaumont (2010) report the results of a WPB training
programme after the development of a policy based on ACAS recommendations
(zero tolerance, deﬁnition and examples of prohibited/permitted conduct, roles and
responsibilities of HR, details of informal and formal resolution procedures and time
frames, possible outcomes, supports available and details of monitoring and review).
After a 3-year period, concerns about WPB being a problem within the organization
14 P. A. Ferris et al.
declined from 52% to 22%. Surprisingly, scores on “very poor”levels of trust in
senior management increased from 25% to 32%. The authors argue that the time lag
for improvement in trust may have been too short.
In their review of interventions addressing WPB and incivility, Hodgins,
MacCurtain and Mannix-McNamara (2014) conclude that the assumption that
bullying can be reduced if people knew more about it (e.g. how to recognize it and
be more assertive in their responses to it) is a ﬂawed assumption. This assumption is
echoed by Pate and Beaumont (2010). These studies suggest that policy develop-
ment and processes may not be enough to signiﬁcantly reduce the incidence of
4.3 Implementing the Policy: Organizational Support
Studies show that, although policies may be well written, they may be poorly
implemented, resulting in ineffective action. According to Hodgins, MacCurtain
and Mannix-McNamara (2014), qualitative studies of target experiences reveal that
workers feel highly compromised with regard to confronting bullying behaviour in
the workplace, believe they will not be listened to, that the organization will not
reprimand or punish bullies and that their only option is to “shut up and put up”
(p. 56). They recommend an integrated approach that includes the individual but also
goes further to the job, organization and societal levels.
Unfortunately, there is evidence that shows when people report an allegation of
WPB, nothing happens (Rayner, 1999). Rayner found that when employees sought
help to address bullying, they went either to the bully directly, to the bully’s boss, to
the personnel or HR department or to the union representative or made a group
complaint. Rayner found that most frequently “nothing”was the reported outcome
of their actions. To be fair, this does not always mean that nothing has happened: it
means from the complainant’s perspective nothing has happened. This implies that
where a policy exists, an organization should ensure that complaints are adequately
followed up and dealt with and that the stages of this process should be clearly
communicated to the complainant(s).
Other studies have shown that there are likely to be fewer negative side effects of
harassment on well-being if employees believe the organization is willing to address
or prevent the recurrence of an experienced behaviour (Dobbin & Kelly, 2007; Frost,
2003). Deery, Walsh and Guest (2011) examined the effects of harassment on job
burnout and turnover intentions among hospital nurses in Britain, especially minor-
ity workers (n=2221, mainly female). They also examined perceptions of proce-
dural fairness on burnout and intent to leave. A total of 748 (34%) reported that they
had experienced verbal harassment. Perceived policy effectiveness was negatively
associated with job burnout (r=0.22, p˂0.01) and intent to leave (r=0.23,
p˂0.01). The researchers reported that effective workplace harassment policies
played a signiﬁcant role in reducing the turnover intentions of ethnic minority
Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review of Best Practices and Research on... 15
Woodrow and Guest (2014) found in a study of the NHS that the organization’s
policy reﬂected best practices but that implementation was uneven. Broad themes
emerged from their research: managers lacked conﬁdence in implementing the
policy because the organization seemed to tolerate such behaviour if patient care
was seen as good; managers felt implementation of the policy was too time con-
suming; lacked competency in conﬂict management and leadership; managers had
personal relationships with team members that blocked addressing the issue; and a
lack of motivation, with addressing bullying being seen as a “hassle”. The authors
concluded that strong organizational leadership and support will be required to
create an environment where HR implements a WPB policy fully and effectively.
Similarly, D’Cruz and Noronha (2010) explored target coping with bullying in
international call centre workers in India (n=10), using a conversational style.
Participants reported that when they identiﬁed their situation to superiors, their
superiors considered this inappropriate and reacted with anger. The participants
reported reacting with further anxiety and depression and a feeling of betrayal of
trust. D’Cruz and Noronha (2010) also found, similar to Rayner’s(1999)ﬁndings,
that when participants reported their experiences to HR, they were assured the matter
would be attended to but that, in reality, months would pass without action. Indeed,
when senior managers did meet them, they expressed disbelief at participants’
experiences and blamed the participants for the situation, insinuating that the
participant had done something wrong to invite such behaviour from his or her
superior(s) and/or that the participant was unable to cope and adjust. These studies
highlight the need for leadership support of, and skill in, implementing a WPB
policy. Without such skill and support from those identiﬁed in a policy, it seems that
using the processes identiﬁed in a policy can further inﬂame a situation.
The authors suggest that organizational representatives must know and under-
stand the policy and be willing to implement it. Therefore, they must be trained and
updated on the concept, and effective management and performance in this area must
be scrutinized. The best policy, not implemented, cannot be effective. A commitment
to training could be beneﬁcial in facilitating this understanding and willingness to
Escartin (2016) conducted a review of selected quasi and experimental longitu-
dinal studies of WPB interventions, four of which focused on communicating policy
through training. Three of the four studies showed at least some positive results.
Escartin recommends the beneﬁts of training with internal or external facilitators that
are trusted by employees, in helping to demonstrate commitment by leaders and
managers, and the development of a positive work climate. Reﬂecting these ﬁndings,
the ﬁrst author has found that providing support, advice and reﬂection to those
managing a complaint of WPB has helped decision-making and created a sense of
calm and support.
As a consultant in the ﬁeld who provides training to organizations, the ﬁrst author
ﬁnds that employees become engaged when a face-to-face training method is used
and when there is interaction with the trainer through questions, dialogue, sharing of
experiences and case examples. There has been a push towards online training in this
area, and this may be effective for ensuring that there is knowledge of the policy;
16 P. A. Ferris et al.
nonetheless, because there are so many intricacies, the face-to-face ability to discuss
and explore the issues is likely to be more effective in changing behaviour. As
consultants, the ﬁrst and third authors lead face-to-face training using challenging
questions, case, arbitration and legal examples. The high level of discussion and
interest has always been surprising, as has the confusion on the concept and the need
for clariﬁcation through discussion and examples. Opportunities for ongoing dia-
logue are therefore arguably critical.
4.4 What Would Make Policy More Effective? Thoughts from
Research and Practice
Strategies for effectively addressing WPB need to be developed for every level from
the top down. Rayner and McIvor (2008) see the role of senior management in
visibly highlighting the importance of bullying policy as the crucial element in the
successful management of bullying, a position evident in much of the research
D’Cruz and Noronha (2016) propose that organizational governance (e.g.
adopting an organizational governance position on WPB where policy falls within
this position) is an effective strategy to communicate social responsibility to a
company’s workforce. They also argue this approach should encompass organiza-
tional abuse not addressed in WPB policies but which needs addressing as a matter
of organizational governance. This abuse may reﬂect international, national and
company codes of conduct and includes the routine subjugation of employees by
contextual, structural and processual elements of organizational design, as well as
managers and supervisors who involuntarily use abusive and hostile behaviours in
an impersonal way to achieve organizational effectiveness. D’Cruz and Noronha
(2016) also see trade unions as important in putting pressure on management to
develop anti-bullying policies. They recommend that organizational policy encom-
pass category-based (protected grounds) harassment that makes provisions for
primary, secondary and tertiary prevention (e.g. risk assessment, setting up of
conducive work contexts, awareness, behavioural training, bystander intervention,
conﬁdential counsellors, redressal procedures, complaints committees and counsel-
4.5 Case Example
A good illustration of the complexities involved in implementing effective WPB
policies can be found in the work of Fevre, Lewis, Robinson and Jones (2012). They
describe a study in a major business unit of a large public limited company they term
“Britscope”. Britscope was facing the need to update policies and programming in
the area of bullying and sexual harassment (particularly of women). Britscope’s
process may hold ideas for other companies who want to improve the culture of
civility and dignity, as well as respond to WPB. These interventions can be seen to
Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review of Best Practices and Research on... 17
follow the recommendations in this chapter. Britscope held focus groups to review
ﬁndings about existing policies and practices; problems identiﬁed included low
levels of awareness among both management and staff, different policies and
practices across business units, a general desire for informal resolution, confusion
about the terms “bullying”and “harassment”and the problem of including these
concepts under a generic set of grievance procedures.
As a result, a distinct bullying policy was developed, reﬁning deﬁnitions of
bullying versus harassment, as well as the introduction of a 12-step investigation
process. Further initiatives developed included an external, independently operated
24-h bullying/harassment reporting helpline, a national programme of “diversity
training”which was compulsory for every member of the organization and a
programme of discussion groups using specially trained facilitators operating to a
set of detailed guidance notes discussing dignity and respect in the workplace. A
special study on the experience of women was conducted, as was a programme of
publicity and training. A general statement of principles was agreed to by manage-
ment, trade unions and other employees. Trade union involvement was generally
reported as supportive. Unfortunately, the major drive on policy did not seem to
change the behaviour sought on a day-to-day basis. The researchers state that some
of the remedies designed to deal with ill treatment by managers seemed ineffective.
The researchers sum up their work by stating that there has been an over-reliance on
concepts of bullying and stress rather than on more sociological questions that might
point to understanding of the causes and solutions of troubles in the workplace.
5 Recommendations for Further Research
In light of the preceding discussion, future research into the effectiveness of policy
processes should be concentrated in ﬁve areas.
Firstly, future research should examine the development and implementation
processes around WPB policies. More insight is needed into the relative effective-
ness of the different methods for developing robust policies, for example, a com-
parison of the effectiveness of policies developed by management versus steering
committees that include employee representatives.
Secondly, given the pervasive nature of technology in many workplaces, it would
be interesting to explore the relative merits of its use in raising awareness and
understanding not only of the policies themselves but also of bullying in general.
Research here may, for example, compare web-based and paper-based policies
and/or training. If, as argued here, dialogue is crucial for increasing awareness and
facilitating effectiveness, the role of technology in facilitating or constraining policy
effectiveness is worth exploring.
Thirdly, the growing consensus of the need to provide supportive structures
around policies, such as the use of contact persons, is currently lacking an evidence
base. Future research should seek to explore how effective support contacts are,
including the extent to which they are trusted and utilized.
18 P. A. Ferris et al.
Fourthly, it has been clearly established that efforts to address WPB should be
collaborative and involve multiple parties. Future research should explore the
dynamics within these relationships, for example, the extent to which a trade
union is involved in the development of a policy, and the implications this has for
Finally, in order to interrogate the extent to which best practice may actually be
realized in practice, research into the inﬂuence and impact of contextual factors is
needed. For example, does the willingness and ability to design and implement an
effective policy vary depending on the size of the organization, or the composition of
its workforce, or its sector?
6 Discussion and Conclusion
This chapter highlights several issues with WPB policy. Viewing the issue as a
policy process emphasizes the need for a holistic approach that focuses on the roles
of all parties, including victims and perpetrators (Dix, Davey, & Latreille, 2012).
Policy development is a process that starts with corporate or organizational gover-
nance making strong statements about a civil and digniﬁed workplace. The role of
senior management in making visible and emphasizing the importance of bullying
policy has been identiﬁed as a crucial element in the successful management of
bullying (Rayner & McIvor, 2008; Vartia & Tehrani, 2012). This process then is
handed to senior people, charged with setting the process of policy development, as
well as the ultimate management and implementation of the policy. To this end,
committees involving all stakeholders and especially trade unions (or other
employee representatives) should be included in the development and ongoing
review of the policy—indeed, in some countries, this may be a legal requirement.
The evidence shows that there is general agreement on the important factors of
content of a WPB policy and that these should, as far as possible, be aligned with
relevant legal provision and/or recognized guidance. However, evidence also indi-
cates this agreement over policy content is frequently not matched by effective
organizational use and implementation of policies. The next steps are building
awareness and commitment from the very top all the way down. Training and
awareness sessions may be best run by trained independent contractors knowledge-
able about the ﬁeld in terms of both research and practice and therefore capable of
providing the most up-to-date information. The use of external consultants to
provide assistance and coaching to managers and other employees in handling and
offering support around WPB may also be useful. This may be especially useful
where in-house experience or HR presence is limited.
The research shows that failure of policy generally occurs at the implementation
stage and was often derailed by managers who lacked conﬁdence and/or by HR
professionals who felt torn between organizational and individual protections to
implement a policy. These two groups need very speciﬁc training and additional
resources, such as their own support systems and detailed guidance in the form of
documentation. Access to knowledgeable HR support and a supportive senior
Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review of Best Practices and Research on... 19
management team are, therefore, essential. Selection of people knowledgeable in
WPB, and who have the personal capacity for empathy, conﬂict resolution and active
listening, will assist their ability to deal with complaints when these arise. The
authors agree, and further advocate, the importance of senior managers modelling
appropriate behaviour and intervening in inappropriate behaviour that they observe.
Resources required may include contact people and external investigators. The
cycle of awareness and training needs to continue, preferably on a yearly basis.
Social dialogue must continue on an ongoing basis, somewhat like safety, where
safety incidents and experiences are shared and discussed, keeping the issue alive.
The importance of the reduction of harm to people and organizations through
good social governance reﬂected in a WPB policy and its proper implementation
cannot be overemphasized: an adaptable living policy is needed to ensure a policy is
not simply a document left on a shelf.
Appendix: Spotlight on Contact Person Networks
Contact persons are trained individuals who are identiﬁed as a possible initial point
of contact for people who wish to discuss an issue associated with WPB. Contact
people provide an opportunity for those who feel they have been bullied or harassed
to discuss the issue(s) in a conﬁdential environment without having to commit to a
particular course of action; they are also a point of contact to help people understand
what appropriate and effective action may be in a particular situation. From an
organizational perspective, utilizing contact persons can help to instil conﬁdence
that issues of WPB will be taken seriously, helping to emphasize an employer’s
commitment to tackling WPB. Having designated contact persons creates a pool of
people who should be modelling appropriate behaviour in the workplace.
An ideal contact person network should contain people from a range of levels
across the organization, who have a good understanding of the organization and of
bullying (although caution should be exercised over inclusion of senior managers in
smaller organizations, e.g. those with less than 300 employees). The cultural,
demographic, occupational and educational diversity of the organization should
also be reﬂected in contact persons available. Individuals within the network should
receive appropriate training and should be mature, good listeners, trustworthy,
credible, sensitive, discreet, analytical, practical, and accessible and approachable
(Top Drawer Consultants, 1999, pp. 36–37).
Organizations need to be clear that a person’s manager, tutor, teacher or lecturer
cannot be a contact person for the complainant. There is also an inherent conﬂict
with HR advisers being contact people, as they have responsibilities towards both
parties in a bullying or harassment issue, as well as their manager.
Training for contact people needs to be broad in terms of the knowledge base and
skill bases required. Policies need to reﬂect the need for ongoing training and
refreshing of the contact network, as well as the opportunity for professional
supervision. Ideally, a contact person is removed from the contact network if they
have not undertaken refresher training at least once every 3 years.
20 P. A. Ferris et al.
In addition to the factors stated above, effective contact person networks require
the public endorsement and support from the head of the organization; ongoing
promotion and publicity through accessible information sources (e.g. posters, face-
to-face introductions with contact persons); a formal coordinator who takes respon-
sibility for supporting, refreshing and professionally supervising or facilitating the
professional supervision of contact people; robust recruitment, selection, training
and review processes; deﬁned boundaries for the role and allocated time for under-
taking the work; and structured processes for recording and reporting contact.
Reporting should not disclose names but should allow for the collation of general
statistical information on the sorts of people approaching, for example, gender/level
in organization/age, the actions they are concerned about, the people they are
complaining about, the action they have taken/propose to take and what further
action may be required. The data provided by the contact people should be used by
the organization to create effective prevention strategies, targeting the speciﬁc issues
that arise most frequently.
Potential challenges in establishing and successfully utilizing a contact person
network arise in relation to the organizational attitude towards the network (e.g. it
being used as an excuse for taking any other action or as a way of managers
abdicating responsibility for having to address and intervene). Many challenges
also associated with the recruitment, selection and retention of suitable individuals.
Ideally, contact people should be nominated by their manager or peers, have a
reference from their manager about their suitability and have submitted some form of
willingness to undertake the role. Maintaining the skill base of the network can also
be problematic, as can ensuring members are sufﬁciently supported in the role.
Unless the organization has a designated coordinator of the programme, members
can become burnt out with the role, feel isolated within it and sometimes even feel
bullied for being in the role. Turnover may result either from the aforementioned
burnout, due to individuals leaving the network or organization or through promo-
tion into a role that makes individuals unsuitable to act as a contact person. There is a
need, therefore, to ensure the network is kept up to date with an appropriate number
and range of personnel. Ensuring adequate training and deﬁnition of the role can also
help to mitigate the risk of contact persons “going rogue”by operating beyond their
brief and/or pursuing their own agendas.
Two key challenges require special attention: conﬁdentiality and risk of
Hubert (2012) notes the dilemma that secrecy constraints pose to conﬁdential
support people should a threat be identiﬁed to the target or others. This is overridden
Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review of Best Practices and Research on... 21
in many jurisdictions through the legislative requirements of OHS obligations.
Should a safety issue be disclosed within an organization (e.g. self-harming, harm
to others, potential danger through sabotage), legislation or internal policy required
that the contact person will ensure that the relevant person(s) in the organization is
informed of the issue, so that the organization can take appropriate remedial action.
This is not a breach of conﬁdentiality. Secrecy means that no one gets to know;
conﬁdentiality means that those who have a need to know will get to know. This
includes the relevant management line and health and safety ofﬁcers in the event of a
safety issue being identiﬁed or in the event of a complaint being formally investi-
gated. It also includes the respondent to a complaint. He or she has the right to
natural justice, which in summary includes the right to know, the right to respond,
the right to support and the right to time to respond (see Food Processing etc. IUOW
v Unilever New Zealand Ltd (1990)ERNZ, cited with approval in A Ltd v H CA638/
2014 (2016)NZCA 419). A respondent cannot fully respond to a complaint if they do
not fully know the facts of the complaint made against them or the name of the
A potential concern for people becoming contact people is that they could be sued
for defamation should they pass on information about complaints made to them.
Defamation is deﬁned as “the act of making untrue statements about another which
damages his/her reputation”(Hill & Hill, 2017).
Complainants, respondents and those properly involved in a complaint have a
defence against defamation where the complaint is made honestly and only to those
who have a duty to receive it (New Zealand Human Rights Commission, 1991). A
defence of “qualiﬁed privilege”is available to those who have an accepted duty to be
involved, which includes a contact person, as long as they comply with and limit
themselves to the organization’s procedure and as long as any action that they take is
done honestly and without malicious intent. Policies need to clarify that disciplinary
action may result if a complainant makes a false, malicious, frivolous or vexatious
▶Addressing Workplace Bullying: The Role of Training, Education and
▶Alternate Dispute Resolution in Workplace Bullying and Harassment Complaints
▶Complaint Investigation in Cases of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and
▶Managing Workplace Bullying Complaints: Conceptual Inﬂuences and the Effects
of Conceptual Factors
22 P. A. Ferris et al.
▶Regulation as Intervention: How Regulatory Design Can Affect Behaviours in the
▶Worker Representation and Advocacy in the Context of Workplace Bullying,
Emotional Abuse and Harassment
Cross-References to Other Volumes
▶Cyberbullying at Work: Understanding the Inﬂuence of Technology, Vol. 1
▶Dignity, Vol. 1
▶Ethical Challenges in Workplace Bullying and Harassment: Creating Ethical
Awareness and Sensitivity, Vol. 1
▶Evaluation of Organizational Interventions, Vol. 1
▶The Hallmarks of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment, Vol. 1
▶Theoretical Frameworks That Explain Workplace Bullying, Vol. 1
▶Human Resources as an Important Actor in Workplace Bullying Situations:
Where We Have Been and Where We Should Go, Vol. 2
▶The Role and Impact of Leaders on Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and
Harassment, Vol. 2
▶The Role of Working Environment Authorities in the Dynamics of Workplace
Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment, Vol. 2
▶Upwards Bullying: What We Can Learn About Workplace Bullying, Vol. 2
▶Customer Abuse, Vol. 4
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fullyfocusedsolutions.co.uk/resources/FFsolutions_Bulling_at_work.pdf. Accessed 21 Aug
Cobb, E. P. (2017). Workplace bullying and harassment: New developments in international law.
London: Taylor & Francis.
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