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Ask Ash

18 June 18

Advice column: I'm being bullied, but nothing changed after I complained

Dear Ash

I am a paralegal and have been in my role for just under a year. During that time, I have been bullied and belittled by a partner, especially in front of other staff members, and have actually been in tears on a few occasions. My doctor has increased my anti-depressants.

When one of the solicitors left, I was given increased responsibility and advised that I was to carry out case work under the partner’s supervision. However, the firm has appointed additional employees and I am now doing no paralegal work at all – only dictation tapes and answering the phone.

I am happy to “muck in” where needed, but none of the promises made to me – at my interview or since – have come to fruition. I have spoken to another partner, but while he said the right words, nothing changed and my partner continues to bully and belittle me. I am applying for other jobs, so far without success, and wonder what I can do in the meantime to stop the bullying and make my work (and life) more bearable.

Ash replies:

I am sorry you are being made to feel so low. You are doing the right thing in terms of raising any issues with your employer and I appreciate that it cannot be easy, especially if there is not the scope to work in other areas or teams so that raising any concerns can lead to a more intense and pressurised environment with those causing the issues.

In terms of the bullying, you need to consider putting your position in writing in the form of a grievance. This should prompt your employers at least to take more seriously your concerns that are not being heard at present. Not all employers treat formal grievances in the way they should, but at least there is a legal framework in place with regard to any grievance procedure which should provide you with some assurance about what process should be followed. You should also seek independent advice from an employment lawyer in order to confirm your options, or you could try the free advice and guidance from ACAS or your local citizens’ advice bureau.

I appreciate that you may have financial pressures, which mean that you cannot be without a job, and I know first hand how you can feel trapped in a job that you dislike! Therefore until you are able to find a new job you also need to work on yourself to preserve your self-confidence and essentially make yourself strong despite the treatment you are facing. The grievance should hopefully at least have the effect of making your partner back off in terms of his attitude. In the meantime, you should consider speaking to someone about the stress and anxiety you are clearly enduring. LawCare offers help and support to those in the legal profession going through pressures at work, including depression and anxiety, with a confidential helpline (0800 279 6888), and it may be worth giving them a call. You should also go back to your GP and see whether they can refer you to counselling services. You may also be able to be signed off for a period of time to allow you to take time out from the clearly toxic environment at work.

In terms of your mental wellbeing it is vital that you are able to talk about your concerns and anxieties, and to remember (despite it being a cliché) that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We all have the right to feel safe, secure and valued in the working environment and you need to take steps in order to ensure that you make yourself a priority.

Take care. 

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk, or mail to Suite 6b, 1 Carmichael Place, Edinburgh EH6 5PH. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, head of admissions on 0131 476 8162, or by email: katiewood@lawscot.org.uk

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