Can a sarcastic tone of voice be construed as bullying?

If a manager rolls their eyes at an employee or speaks to them in a sarcastic tone of voice, does that actually constitute bullying?

Can a sarcastic tone of voice be construed as bullying?

If a manager rolls their eyes at an employee or speaks to them in a sarcastic tone of voice, does that actually constitute bullying?

Not if it’s a one-off incident, according to Hamish Kynaston, partner at Buddle Findlay.

However, Kynaston told HRD that if it is part of an ongoing course of conduct then it could well be defined as such.

“Even if it falls short of bullying which is quite a high threshold then it’s something that can nevertheless be addressed as an issue by an employer,” he said.

“The employer should tell the staff member that it’s not acceptable to constantly be sarcastic or to roll your eyes because it’s unhelpful, unwelcome and upsetting to the employee(s).

“So it’s something that can be addressed but would require a repetition and a noticeable impact on the individual to be construed as bullying.”

Joe Flanagan, senior consultant at VelvetJobs, told HRD that first step to addressing unwelcome behaviour is to create a respectful workplace where nasty incidents are not tolerated and where it’s openly acceptable to discuss the topic.

“Regularly consult with workers to create an open environment where they feel comfortable to speak up,” he said.

“Set the standard of acceptable behaviour by creating a code of conduct that provides tangible boundaries for staff on an ongoing basis.”

He added that it’s important to provide regular training for staff on this note.

“This provides a framework to work with in the case of a reported bullying instance,” he said.

“If allegations are made, have the victim identify the nature of the incident. Work with them to ascertain if the nature of the complaint does indeed constitute bullying.

“Sometimes staff report a single incident and claim it as bullying, and although concerning, it’s not the case by definition.”

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