After 18 months, she could stand no more and offered to resign. She was immediately issued with a termination notice with no reason given. Fortunately, she had kept records and, after receiving support from the union, was offered a substantial sum to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) – the only way she could secure a good reference. “I don’t care about working for the big names or climbing the ladder any more, and I feel freer for it,” she says. “I have a job I enjoy, great management and a better life.” Paul Breeden, Bristol NUJ chair, says it is rare for an employer to accept that bullying has happened and members usually end up achieving a settlement without admission of liability. “Often it can be subtle and hard to prove,” he says. “I’ve

never had a case where it’s overt and people are really threatened – it’s more about insidious undermining, people being belittled.” One member says his boss presented as ‘very caring’. “He

tried to make out that he was my best friend and only cared about what he could do to support my mental health,” he says. “It was a constant, clear and sustained PR exercise to be seen to be saying all the right things but, the moment there was any attempt to explore what that could mean to support me, it was either refusal or mis-representation of the employer’s corporate policy.”

He suffered insomnia and anxiety so severe that he could

not eat. When he challenged his employer about his rights, his boss started “shouting and slamming tables” – always in private meetings where no one else was present. “My boss was very skilful,” he says. “There were never any

conversations on email or in public where any of the stuff he was telling me that was clearly wrong could have been referred to. The world is a sophisticated place now and bullying is sophisticated.” His advice is to keep notes and contact the NUJ straight

away. “I have now left that team and that itself has been the best healing process,” he says. His former boss, meanwhile, is still in place,

“ ”

Bullying can be subtle and hard to prove. I’ve never had a case where it’s overt – it’s more about insidious undermining, people being belittled

Brian Williams, Brighton branch secretary, represents members where there is no chapel, often in books, magazines or PR. He says the NUJ often has no idea bullying is taking place until a member gets singled out for redundancy. “The boss spends the first few months undermining the victim, before deciding they are surplus to requirements and will jump at a redundancy payment – even if it’s statutory.” While some journalists embark on a successful freelance

career, some lose so much confidence that they end up retiring or leaving the industry altogether. “It changes lives,” says the Bristol branch chair. “I can think of people who will not work at the same level again.” One member managed to resolve the situation herself after being bombarded day and night with messages from her employer. “I had panic attacks and became afraid to open my emails, I felt like everything was crushing me,” she says. After attending an NUJ coaching and mentoring course, she

decided to get to know her boss better which helped her to manage her own reactions and diffuse tensions. So what more can be done to protect members? The NUJ has led a long-running campaign, encompassing

the Leveson inquiry testimony and the Rose review at the BBC, and is working with the Federation of Entertainment Unions and International Press Institute. The Bristol branch chair calls for improved legislation and higher penalties to deter employers and Pamela calls for fairer contracts and grievance procedures for freelances. Some members feel that time restrictions (having to make a claim within three months of employment ending or the problem occurring) pose a disadvantage and say Acas could have a stronger role. One member calls for tougher actions on organisations that use NDAs and ‘wellness’ initiatives to ‘plaster over bad culture’. Ultimately, there seems to be a need for greater transparency and understanding of what bullying actually looks like. “We need more people to back each other up and challenge inappropriate behaviour when they see it,” says Hirst.

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