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The College of Podiatry against bullying, discrimination, harassment and undermining behaviours

The College of Podiatry against bullying, discrimination, harassment and undermining behaviours

The College of Podiatry is taking a stance to say that we do not accept bullying, harassment, sexual harassment or any form of inappropriate behaviour, by or to our members or any other member of staff or the public.



The economic impact of bullying related absences, staff turnover and lost productivity is estimated to cost the UK approximately £18bn per year.1 The financial impact of bullying in the NHS alone costs approximately £2.3bn per year2 due to sickness absence, employment tribunals and replacing those who have left due to bullying or harassment.3 For individuals affected, there are emotional and psychological consequences of workplace bullying, medical implications and socio-economic effects.4 Bullying and harassment within healthcare may be caused by a complicated mix of service pressures, poor leadership and out-dated cultures and behaviours. Too often, we hear of the onus being put upon the individual to either deal with situations themselves or to raise concerns and challenge behaviours.

Bullying, harassment and undermining behaviours are unfortunately a reality for many people who work in healthcare. There is evidence5 which illustrates that poor teamwork due to bullying can lead to a breakdown of team behaviour which then has an effect on patient care.

The College of Podiatry is committed to ensuring that its members are working in an environment which is free from bullying and harassment. Every employee has the right to expect dignity at work, and a working environment free from all forms of bullying and harassment. The College of Podiatry expect that all members have a responsibility to treat colleagues with dignity and respect, irrespective of their race, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion or belief, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy, maternity, gender recognition, political conviction, membership/non-membership of a trade union/professional organisation or work pattern. Therefore, the bullying or harassment of any member of staff for any reason is unacceptable in any form.



Perceptions of what constitutes bullying or bullying behaviours can vary hugely and be dependent upon context, individual sensitivities and experience. What some may consider reasonable and direct, others may deem as insensitive and bullying. Due to the multifaceted and nebulous nature, bullying is difficult to define, however the General Medical Council (GMC) regards this as being ‘undermining in behaviour that subverts, weakens or wears away confidence’, and ‘behaviour that hurts or frightens someone who is less powerful, often forcing them to do something they do not want to do’.6

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) defines bullying as: ‘Bullying can be defined as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, denigrates or injures the recipient (emotionally or physically)’, with victimisation regarded as retaliatory action by an employer against an employee who has made or supported a complaint of discrimination.7


Undermining is usually taken to mean actions taken to lower someone’s confidence or self-esteem, or to reduce their chances of succeeding or achieving their personal or professional goals.


Some bullying behaviour may constitute discrimination if related to one of the grounds of unlawful discrimination under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

Discrimination can come in one of four forms:       

  • Direct discrimination - treating someone with a protected characteristic less favourably than others       
  • Indirect discrimination - putting rules or arrangements in place that apply to everyone, but that put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage    
  • Harassment - The Equalities Act of 2010 defines harassment as ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic (listed below), which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’    
  • Victimisation - treating someone unfairly because they’ve complained about discrimination or harassment8

Protected Characteristics:   

  •          Age  
  •          Disability
  •          Gender reassignment
  •          Marriage or civil partnership
  •          Pregnancy or on maternity leave
  •          Race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin)
  •          Religion or belief
  •          Sex and sexual orientation 

N.B. Discrimination and harassment are illegal behaviours which are legislated against in a variety of anti-discrimination acts.


If you believe you are being bullied, it is essential that you carry out the following actions, as they may be required as evidence in future disciplinary hearings / employment tribunals. These requirements are not excessive, nor are they representative of paranoia. It is merely a sensible means of self-protection.

  1. Document everything – every form of written communication, every encounter where you have been     bullied or have witnessed bullying of others, including times and dates. Even trivial episodes may cumulatively represent compelling evidence in a tribunal or other court hearing. Consider recording meetings (though you must make clear that you are recording and offer the other parties a copy).
  2. Even in the most difficult circumstances it is essential that you remain professional. Failure to do so may compromise your legitimate complaint, and may lead to disciplinary action taken against you or patient safety risks. If you feel unable to maintain professionalism, or if you feel patient safety is at risk, you must elevate your concerns to senior managers. Failure to do so may contravene your regulatory body’s guidelines.
  3. You must be accurate and honest in your representation of events. If your concerns are legitimate, it is unlikely that exaggeration or fabrication of incidents will be required, as the facts may be enough to support a compelling argument. Founded allegations of exaggeration or dishonesty will severely compromise your case in any formal hearing or court case.
  4. It can be extremely difficult to communicate verbally with a bully, as by definition, you are being intimidated. Written communication expressing your concerns and requesting an end to such behaviour is a legitimate and sensible approach and can be used as evidence in future. It is also imperative to communicate with senior staff or management. Always seek advice and representation from a third party, such as your professional body or trade union.


Speaking up should not be viewed as a complaint or a grievance, but more a safety issue. If there is a potential risk within an area of bullying, then that should be viewed as a systemic problem for that organisation, regardless of the number of people involved.

Everyone should be aware of their behaviour and the impact it may have on others. All staff should feel secure to call out behaviours they deem to be inappropriate or offensive - not only is this harmful for the individuals affected, but it has been proven to make those individuals and others who witness such behaviours less likely to raise concerns of seek help when faced with problems beyond their competence.


The College of Podiatry is calling for change. As a professional body and trade union, the College of Podiatry has a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, undermining and harassment; and categorically condemns this is in all circumstances. We want to change the culture of healthcare to ensure that these behaviours becomes so unacceptable that they cease to exist in a professional healthcare environment.

We want to offer support to those who have been bullied, and to get people to reflect on their own behaviour and take ownership of the fact that bullying and harassment is everybody’s problem. As healthcare professionals, we have a duty to protect our patients from damaging and unnecessary treatments, and we have a right to be protected from being bullied, harassed and undermined.

We are asking everyone to work together to bring about this change.

To date, the College of Podiatry has:

  • Developed standards for the prevention of bullying, harassment and undermining in the workplace
  • Reviewed and endorsed an online hub developed by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. This resource has the following information available: Factual and legal information; links to literature; case studies; e-learning tools; support for people who are being bullied, and; strategies to reflect on your own behaviours to make sure that you are not part of the problem
  • Developed resources such as posters and presentations that individuals and teams can use in their own places of work to spread the word and change the culture     
  • Committed to integrating a presentation on this topic in educational courses, events and activities
  • Instil this culture within The College of Podiatry, and encourage it across our membership and amongst     our colleagues

The College of Podiatry will continue to work with other organisations and partners to implement strategies to reduce bullying, undermining and harassment and contribute to the generation of solutions.

Recognising that all NHS Trusts and HEIs have Freedom to Speak Up Guardians, the College of Podiatry is in the process of setting up a secure channel so that the same protection and support can be offered to those outside of the NHS or academic spheres. All members will be able to use this channel to raise a report or concern in the strictest confidence.

As a trade union, we will support members making a complaint. Should there be any evidence of professional malpractice or illegality, we will not hesitate to refer on to the appropriate regulatory and legal authorities for further investigation.



1. Business Reporter. Workplace bullying costs economy £18 billion, Acas claims - Accessed 04.07.2019

2.Kline R, Lewis D. The price of fear: Estimating the financial cost of bullying and harassment to the NHS in England. Public Money and Management 2019; 39(3): 166-174.

3. Sansone RA, Sansone LA. Workplace bullying: a tale of adverse consequences. Innov Clin Neurosci 2015 Jan-Feb; 12(1-2): 32–37.

4. National NHS Staff Survey Coordination Centre - Accessed 04.07.2019

5. Francis R. Report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry. London: The Stationary Office. 2013.

6. Rimmer, A. Trainees are more likely to be undermined than bullied, GMC finds. BMJ 2015; 350: h1329

7. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Bullying, harassment, victimisation: What's the difference? - Accessed 05.07.2019

8. Equality Act 2010 - Accessed 05.07.2019

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