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Bullying, harassment, discrimination

What can I do if I am being bullied, harassed, or discriminated against at work?

Bullying, harassment, and discrimination are still very common in the workplace. This can have a severe impact on you. What can you do to tackle bullying at work?

What is bullying?

Bullying is demeaning, hostile, or intimidating behaviour towards the same person or group. You cannot properly defend yourself as a victim. The bullies often have more power than the victim. The behaviour is repeated and prolonged. You cannot properly do your work. There is no job satisfaction at all. It can cause (physical) complaints.

What is the difference between a joke and bullying?

The victim is unable to defend themself and the bully or group of bullies has more power than the victim.

  • Bullying is usually the act of one person (can also be a manager!) or a small group where one person takes the lead. Small groups can get bigger and bigger, as the pressure to get involved mounts.
  • Victims are people who are different. For example, the victim may have a different taste in music, a different appointment (e.g., a temporary worker who is not familiar with company habits), a different skin colour, or a different outlook on life.
  • Victims do not necessarily have to stand out because of something abnormal. They can also be people who have not learned to stand up for themselves, or who depend on what others think of them. They are afraid to talk about it, so the bullying remains a secret. Victims often only report the bullying once it is too late.

What is harassment?

Harassment can be physical or psychological, for example words in emails or other messages. You feel threatened. Sexual harassment does not always involve physical contact. Comments, unwanted questions about your private life, or gestures can also be annoying or threatening. Harassment can be verbal, non-verbal, or physical. Sexual harassment includes intimate questions about your private life, sexually explicit comments, for example about your body or clothing, or even blackmail, or assault.

Make it clear straight away that it is unwanted. Set your own boundaries.

  • The sooner you do that, the better. Undesired behaviour often develops without you noticing.
  • Record in writing what is happening.
  • Check whether your colleagues have also been affected. Together you are stronger.
  • Find somebody that you really trust and discuss what you are dealing with. This could be a confidential counsellor or a good colleague.
  • Can’t find anybody to confide in at work? Go to a company doctor or general practitioner.
  • You can also call the FNV confidential telephone line (see bottom of page).
  • Alternatively, you can contact Victim Support.
  • You can also file a report with the police.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination involves a distinction being drawn between people. You are treated differently from your colleague because of, for example, your religion, race, gender, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or age.

Making a distinction between people is not always discrimination. If someone without a driving licence applies for a job as a truck driver and does not get the job, this is not discrimination. It would be discrimination if this person was not accepted because they were, for example, a Muslim, or a woman.

What does the Arbowet say?

According to the Dutch Working Conditions Act (Arbowet), your employer must adopt a policy so that there is no bullying in the company. The requirements for that policy are set out in the Working Conditions Decree (Arbobesluit). If your employer does not do enough against bullying, they are in violation of the law. Compliance with the Dutch Working Conditions Act is monitored by the Health and Safety Inspectorate (Inspectorate SZW, which will be called the Netherlands Labour Authority (Nederlandse Arbeidsinspectie (NLA)) from 1 January 2022).

What should your employer do?

  • Your employer should identify the risk of bullying. This does not just involve the problem cases, but the entire business culture and any bullying risks.
  • If there is a problem with bullying, harassment, or discrimination, they must draw up an action plan to combat this.
  • They must notify you and your colleagues of any existing problems and measures against bullying.

Where can I go if I have questions about working healthily and safely?

Is your employer not doing enough to combat bullying? Could you use some support or advice? Call the health and safety advice desk (Arbo-Adviespunt). You can contact us if you have a question about working healthily and safely, for example, about an industrial accident, work pressure, or safety by Ask your question by telephone on 088 – 368 06 09 (Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 1 pm).

You can also ask your question by email by completing this form. We will do our best to answer your questions within a few working days.

Ask your question about working healthily and safely.

We have a separate form for questions about pressure at work:

Ask your question about pressure at work.

Do you have any other questions? This might be about occupational diseases, membership, dismissal, or your CAO (collective labour agreement). Please contact us via the Contact Centre.

Bullying is often related to how people in a company treat each other. Characteristics of a business culture without bullying:

  • There is good internal communication.
  • There is an anti-bullying policy which clearly states what measures will be taken in response to bullying.
  • Complaints about bullying are taken seriously, registered, and reported.
  • Colleagues are held accountable for undesired behaviour.
  • Employees know who they can turn to. This may be their manager, a confidential counsellor, or complaints committee.
  • You have attainable production standards and attention is paid to a healthy workload.
  • There is no atmosphere of “backstabbing” and unhealthy internal struggles.
  • The managers lead by example and are open to a discussion about bullying.

What are the consequences of bullying at work?

  • If you are being bullied, harassed, or discriminated against, you can become very anxious about your work. You feel stressed, find it hard to concentrate, and you might have trouble sleeping. Examples of physical and mental complaints caused by bullying are headaches, stomach and intestinal complaints, shaking, sweating, and sleeping problems.
  • Bullying can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). You can suffer from PTSD after one or more traumatic event(s).
  • If you develop long-term psychological complaints as a result of bullying, you may have PTSD. The complaints can surface immediately, but also only manifest themselves years later. These complaints can manifest themselves both psychologically and physically. In severe cases, bullying can lead to depression or disability.

Where can I file a complaint about my employment agency?

Do you suspect wrongdoings with temporary agency work? Report it to the Inspectorate SZW.

Read more

The confidential phone

Would you like advice on discrimination, racism, (sexual) harassment, bullying, or other undesired behaviour in the workplace? Or just a listening ear? Call the confidential telephone on working days between 7 pm and 9.30 pm or send an email.