What to do if you're being teased, mocked or bullied at work because you stammer.
Bullying is not OK.
Being bullied at work because you stammer, aka stutter, can make you feel humiliated and isolated. It might leave you feeling anxious, depressed and not wanting to go to work at all. It could also have a negative impact on your family and social life outside of work.
If a colleague or manager is bullying you because of your stammer, this could be harassment. Such behaviour is illegal under the Equality Act and Disability Discrimination Act. These are pieces of UK law that protects people from disability discrimination. It doesn't matter if you don't see your stammer as a disability – you are still protected. See Is Stammering A Disability? for more.
This page tells you what bullying is and what you can do about it. If you'd like to talk to someone, contact our Advocacy Service. It's there for anyone who's been unfairly treated because they stammer. Or if you'd just like to vent, chat to someone on our helpline or webchat.
What does bullying look like?
Bullying is when someone, or a group of people, act in an abusive way towards you, which they repeat over time. This can include teasing, mocking, verbal or physical intimidation. Or it can be aggressive and threatening behaviour.
Bullying can include:
- Embarrassing you in public.
- Damaging your professional reputation or relationships.
- Leaving you out or excluding you on purpose.
- Spreading rumours about you and trying to get others to join in.
- Trying to get others to avoid having contact with you.
- Breaking confidence if you've told them something personal, eg about your stammer.
- Making unkind and mean comments about you on social networking sites.
There is no excuse for bullying. People cannot justify bullying behaviour as being:
- differences of opinion. If you are being belittled or intimidated on a regular basis, you are not just clashing with someone. This is bullying.
- character building. Derogatory remarks and actions will not build character. It can be destructive and affect mental health, relationships and the ability to perform in a job.
- a 'management style'. Aggressive or dominant managers may try and pass bullying off in this way.
- provoked. Bullying is never the victim's fault. It will be motivated by the perpetrator's insecurities, prejudices and/or career ambitions.
When to take action
If you are being bullied, all incidents are relevant, because they establish a pattern. Contact our Advocacy Service.
Talk to someone you trust: another colleague, friend or family member. Talking can be a huge relief, as you'll realise you are not alone and will have support dealing with the problem.
Here's what else you should do:
- Keep notes. Include what people have said, the date, time, place, what happened and names of everyone who was there. Get these notes down as soon as you can, and keep notes of each occasion.
- Talk to the person. This may not be possible. But if you can, find a quiet moment and start an informal conversation with the person who is bullying you. But only if it feels safe. Let them know that you are not comfortable with their behaviour. They need to know that it's affecting you. And that you will take further action if things don't change. Some people are genuinely unaware that their behaviour IS bullying. They might even by ashamed to hear their actions are having this effect. So, if you feel able to do, so, let them know.
- Talk to management and HR. If you don't feel comfortable talking with the person, or if you did but it did not go well, tell your employer. Speak to either your manager or HR department about the problem. If the person bullying you is your manager, speak to their manager instead. Your organisation should have a policy to guide you through complaints like this. HR will ask you and other people questions about your experiences. This is where your notes recording the incidents of bullying will be useful.
- Know your organisation's policies. Find out what your organisation's policy on bullying is. This way you can make sure that it is followed and the situation is dealt with properly. Ask your manager or HR department for policy details.
- Make a complaint. If things still aren’t changing, make an official complaint. You can do this through your organisation's Grievance Procedure. Details for how to do this may be available in your organisation's handbook or on their intranet. Ask your manager or HR department.
If the problem is still not resolved after taking these steps, you can take legal action. Doing this will take it to an employment tribunal. Your employer should, by law, protect you from abusive behaviour at work.
Contact our Advocacy Service so we can support you every step of the way.
It can take time to build back confidence, self esteem and for you to feel comfortable around people.
If the bullying has affected your mental health, talk to your GP. You may need time off work and to work with a therapist to help you get through this period. Many people experience anxiety or stress at work. It is normal to seek professional help to deal with bullying and to fully recover.
Finally, if you are coming to terms with your own experience, have patience. This goes the same if you are supporting someone else who has experienced bullying. It can take time for someone to be able to process what they've gone through and recover their confidence.
For support, call our helpline or start a webchat. If you'd like to find a speech & language therapist see Adult Stammering Therapy & Courses. Or why not see if there's a stammering group near you? There you could talk with others who might have experienced the same thing.
For more information on the law, download our guide to 'Stammering, Discrimination & the Law' below. It's a bit dry and full of legal language, so contact our Advocacy Service if you want help understanding it.