Here at the Co-op we want to provide a safe and supportive working environment for all our colleagues, free from bullying and harassment. This policy explains:

  • how we expect our colleagues to behave
  • what to do if you see or experience inappropriate behaviour
  • how we can all help to create a respectful working environment
    This Policy applies to all colleagues, as well as agency workers and contractors.

Crucial bits

At the Co-op we have a zero-tolerance approach to any forms of bullying or harassment towards our colleagues and will take any allegations very seriously.

Just so you’re aware, if we find that you’ve bullied or harassed someone, made false allegations, or treated a colleague badly because they’ve raised a legitimate concern we may deal with this under the Disciplinary Policy.

We all have a responsibility to create a culture where bullying and harassment doesn’t happen in our workplaces, and challenging it or reporting it if we see it happening.

Getting advice

If you feel that you’re being bullied or harassed, it can sometimes be difficult to decide how you want to deal with it. It can help to talk this through with someone. We have a confidential colleague helpline that you can contact for advice on 0844 728 0165 or You can also call our Employee Assistance Programme on 0800 069 8854.

If you’re a member of a trade union, you can also contact them for advice.

Resolving things informally

It’s always better to try to sort things out informally if possible. Explaining to the person responsible how it makes you feel and asking them to stop may get things resolved. They might not realise the impact of their words or actions or have meant to offend you.

But if you don’t feel able to speak to the person, talk to your manager about the problems you’re having. If it’s appropriate, your manager may speak to them confidentially to say that their behaviour is inappropriate and needs to change.

If you don’t feel you can speak to your manager, or your complaint is about them, you can speak informally to your manager’s line manager. There may be other people you feel comfortable speaking to, such as another manager, someone in HR, or your trade union if you’re a member - or you can make a formal complaint.

Making a formal complaint

If you don’t feel able to sort things out informally, you can make a formal complaint. To do this, you’ll need to raise a grievance. You’ll need to put your grievance in writing and send it to your manager - or if your complaint is about your manager, to their manager. See the Grievance Policy for more information.

We know it’s not an easy thing to do to speak up about these things, so we’ll investigate this as quickly as possible. If we find evidence, we’ll take appropriate action against those involved.

Support and protection for colleagues

If you raise a concern in good faith, or you’ve witnessed bullying and harassment at work, we’ll give you support. We won’t allow you to suffer negative treatment in your employment because of it.

Also, if you’ve been accused of bullying and harassment and we find this is untrue, we won’t allow you to suffer negative treatment in your employment because of it. We’ll also give you support if you need it.

Performance management

Bullying isn’t the same as managing someone’s performance. If your manager’s giving you work to do or managing your performance using an informal or formal process - and they’re doing that in a professional and supportive way - this won’t on its own be considered bullying.

But if you do feel that your manager’s behaviour towards you is unacceptable, talk to them about it. If you feel like you can’t do this, there are other ways you can raise your concerns – see ‘Making a formal complaint’ above.

Things to think about

Remember, you’re responsible for your own behaviour while at work, any time you’re representing the Co-op outside of the workplace or at any work-related event. And we’re all expected to be respectful and considerate of other people and individual differences - for more information, see the Inclusion and Diversity Policy.

What is bullying?

Bullying is behaviour that is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting toward someone else. It could also be an abuse or misuse of power which undermines, humiliates, puts down or hurts another person.

Bullying can take many different forms, including;

  • physical, verbal or mental, or all of these
  • aggressive - such as threatening or intimidating someone, or passive – such as ignoring someone
  • carried out in an obvious and public way, or be subtle so only you and the bully know it’s going on
  • in person or by phone, email, text, or via social networking sites
  • ongoing or a serious one-off incident
  • between two individuals or involve a group of people targeting one person

Bullying can also be related to work, for example:

  • giving someone tasks that aren’t achievable, an unmanageable workload or impossible deadlines
  • singling out someone for trivial tasks or unpleasant jobs
  • holding back information or deliberately “losing” information
  • not passing on messages or giving wrong or unclear information on purpose
  • making inappropriate comments or threats about someone losing their job

What is harassment?

Harassment is legally defined as unwanted behaviour in relation to one of the categories below that violates someone’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

  • Gender
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Race and ethnic or national origin
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender reassignment
  • Religion or religious belief
  • Political opinion (in Northern Ireland)

It includes unwanted conduct that is sexual in nature and treating someone badly because they either rejected it or because they went along with it.

The law also protects people against victimisation – which means being treated badly because they have or they plan to or other people think they have;

  • Brought an employment tribunal claim alleging discrimination
  • Complained about discrimination
  • Given evidence or information in relation to someone else’s claim about discrimination.

Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 and equality legislation in Northern Ireland. If someone’s behaviour is unwanted and causes offence, even if it wasn’t done on purpose, it may be harassment. And the unwanted behaviour doesn’t have to be aimed at you for you to be offended by it. If it creates an intimidating or offensive environment for you or anyone else, then it could be harassment.

Always try to think about how your behaviour or language might affect other people. If you’re not sure whether it’s right for the workplace, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Examples of unacceptable behaviour

Below are some examples of the kind of behaviour we think is unacceptable at the Co-op:

  • Threatening or using physical violence
  • Using insulting, humiliating or offensive language, both spoken and in writing
  • Sending, circulating or displaying offensive words or images – including on posters, graffiti and tattoos
  • Abusing a positon of power
  • Making sarcastic or snide remarks, inappropriate jokes or banter
  • Spreading nasty rumours about someone
  • Excluding someone
  • Making unwelcome sexual advances or suggestive behaviour toward someone
  • Making unnecessary or unwanted physical contact with someone

There’s more information about different types of bullying and harassment in Appendix 1.

Behaviour outside work

If you experience unwanted or offensive behaviour that happens outside of the workplace but still to do with your work, like at a work-related social event or training course, tell your manager. They’ll investigate and deal with it in line with this policy.

Social media

If you put potentially offensive or inappropriate comments or images about or directed at colleagues or customers on social media sites, we’ll take this very seriously and investigate it in line with this policy. There’s more information in our Social Media Policy.

Behaviour of customers or external parties

If you experience or see inappropriate behaviour by customers or third-party contractors in your workplace, don’t feel like you just have to put up with it. Talk to your manager as soon as you can. They’ll listen to your concerns and take appropriate steps to resolve things.

If you need further support

If you have any questions about bullying and harassment or have experienced inappropriate behaviour, speak to your manager, or another manager in your business area. If you feel that you can’t speak to your manager then you can contact the confidential bullying and harassment helpline on 0844 728 0165 or email

Remember we have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) who can provide colleagues with support. You can contact the EAP on 0800 069 8854. It’s independent and totally confidential. And there’s no charge for Co-op colleagues.

If managers need advice they can contact ER Services.

Appendix 1 – Types of Bullying and Harassment

As well as the behaviours listed in the Policy, there are some more examples below of behaviour which is unlawful and which here at the Co-op we think is unacceptable:

Sexual harassment

This is behaviour that’s unwanted or unwelcome which could be seen as sexual or is to do with someone’s gender. It’s offensive, humiliating or intimidating and undermines the dignity of the person.

Some examples of sexual harassment are:

  • Sexually suggestive jokes or comments, or innuendo
  • Offensive gestures or whistling
  • Unnecessary touching
  • Suggestions that sexual favours may further someone’s career, or that refusing them may damage it

Racial bullying & harassment

This is behaviour that’s unwanted or unwelcome and based on someone’s race or ethnic or national origin. It’s offensive to them and might threaten their security or create a stressful, hostile or intimidating work environment.

Some examples of racial bullying and harassment are:

  • Offensive remarks about someone’s race, ethnic or national origin
  • Ridicule or assumptions based on racial stereotypes

Homophobic, biphobic or transgender bullying & harassment

This is behaviour that’s unwanted or unwelcome and due to an irrational dislike, hatred or fear of people who are either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), or other people think they are.

Some examples of homophobic/transgender bullying and harassment are:

  • Outing an individual as LGBT without their permission
  • Spreading rumours or gossip about someone’s sexual orientation or gender
  • Asking an LGBT or transgender colleague intrusive questions about their private life
  • Making assumptions and judgements about a colleague based on their sexual orientation/gender

Disability-related bullying & harassment

This is treatment of or behaviour towards someone that’s unwanted or unwelcome, related to disability. It’s offensive, humiliating and undermines the dignity of the person.

Some examples of disability-related bullying and harassment are:

  • Making assumptions or judgements about a colleague based on their disability
  • Making jokes or offensive remarks about someone’s disability
  • Pressuring a colleague to work over their contractual hours, when the reason they can’t is because they have caring responsibilities for someone who is disabled

Bullying and harassment on the grounds of religion, religious belief or political opinion

Some examples of harassment because of religion or religious belief or political opinion are:

  • Ridicule, making jokes or offensive remarks about a particular political party or religion/ religious belief
  • Excluding someone because of their political opinion or religious group
  • Specifically within Northern Ireland, wearing, displaying or circulating any of the symbols and emblems that have been directly linked to community conflict and/or to local politics – including:
  • Football shirts
  • Badges and insignia linked to paramilitary or political organisations, e.g. buttonholes, tattoos
  • Badges and insignia, e.g. Easter Lilies, Orange symbols
  • Posters, displays, literature, emblems, screensavers, ringtones etc. linked to the above
  • Posters, pictures, portraits and other displays that contain or incorporate emblems more closely associated with one or other of the communities
  • Religious literature and emblems

Cyber bullying and harassment

This is using technology, such as mobile phones and the internet, to bully or harass colleagues, both during and/or outside of work time.

Some examples of cyber bullying and harassment are:

  • Emailing or texting someone threatening or nasty messages
  • Emailing an embarrassing or humiliating image or video of someone, posting it on social media, or forwarding it onto others
  • Harassing someone by repeatedly sending texts or instant messages in a chat room
  • Posting or forwarding someone else’s personal information or images without their permission

Remember, if it’s not ok to say something to someone’s face, it’s not ok to say it online.


This is behaviour toward a colleague, or treating them badly at work because they have, intend to or are thought to have:

  • Brought an employment tribunal claim alleging harassment
  • Complained about harassment
  • Given evidence or information in connection with another colleagues’ claim about harassment

Bullying and Harassment FAQ’s for managers