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How to combat bullying in the workplace as an intern

Published:2 October 2019

Being an intern can sometimes put someone in a vulnerable position for bullying due to the power differences between you and the perpetrator, this creates an opportunity for exploitation, because the bully will know that you want to be successful on your internship. Despite this, no one should ever have to put up with bullying in the workplace, and all businesses should be operating a zero-tolerance policy on any bullying complaints.

Interns or new employees can be vulnerable to bullying

There are many reasons for workplace bullying, and it can affect a whole range of different employees from interns to CEO’s. Some interns might find that they are being treated with rudeness and disrespect by employees that were interns in the workplace before, as a way to validate themselves and feel important. Unfortunately, anyone who is a newbie to a company is more vulnerable to encountering this problem.

Being aware of your rights

It is important to be aware that as an intern, which is essentially a form of volunteering, you are not fully protected under the Equality Act. However, there are other possible routes to protection for interns under the equality act such as the vocational training or work experience provisions under section 56(6) of the Equality Act, and the 'service user' provisions of the Act (Part 3 of the Equality Act). You should also take advice from a citizen’s advice or law centre if you wish to take the complaint further. Acas Helpline would be a good place to start in this instance.

Bullying is more common if you are an unpaid intern

It is important to bear in mind also that bullying can be more of a problem in organisations with particularly large numbers of unpaid interns, in this instance it would be worth joining a trade union that is active in your sector for protection.

If it doesn’t feel right raise the flag

The first step is to identify the bully. You have the right to challenge any behaviour that is intended to put you down in some way, whether it be a snide remark or an overly aggressive manager who you feel puts you down a bit too much. While it may be easy to mistake this for being hard on you for the sake of your development, be aware that this could be a disguised case of bullying in the workplace. The same goes for cyberbullying both inside and outside of the workplace. If it doesn’t feel right and it is getting you down, you shouldn’t let it slide.

Courses of action

In terms of taking action, there are a few ways that you could approach this. Sometimes it needn’t go any further than a one on one confrontation, however you should make sure that you are calm and composed before taking this approach. Sometimes the shock of being approached when someone was expecting to get away with it can be enough to settle someone down and bring the bullying to stop.

If you would feel more comfortable going directly to your employer or another higher up, just make sure that you are prepared and you have recorded the various incidences down so that you are able to give a thorough account along with evidence of what has been happening. It is the responsibility of your employer to make sure that bullying does not occur, and the perpetrator is at risk of losing their job if bullying continues after their behaviour has been challenged.


Katlyn Hudson



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