Bullying at your foundation training placement

If you're experiencing bullying at your foundation placement, take a look at some steps you can take to overcome it and the support available to you.

How to deal with bullying at work

Bullying can be gradual, and it may be a while before you realise what is happening to you. On this page, we’ll look at the types of bullying that can occur on your placement, how to raise a grievance and the support available from Pharmacist Support and other organisations.

Bullying by a supervisor

One of the signs that an aggressive act is bullying and not just bad behaviour, is if there is an imbalance of power. The aggressive party has either the perception or reality of being greater than you in some manner. Supervisors can make or break your career, and this might add to their sense of being greater than you. If your supervisor is doing any of the following it is a sign that they are using their power incorrectly:

  • ridiculing you
  • threatening you
  • constantly putting you down
  • threatening to withhold sign-offs
  • forcing you to sign additional contracts for employment following on from your training
  • criticizing you for not working fast enough
  • making unwanted sexual advances
  • harassment based on gender, age, race, disability, religion, or sexual orientation.

Some trainees stay on in a placement in the hope that the bullying will stop. It rarely does and you will need to take action to make sure that it stops. You do have options. These include:

  • speaking to your supervisor directly
  • speaking to a work colleague or contacting HR
  • changing to another branch if you work for a large multiple
  • starting again with a brand-new placement from week one
  • asking for a change of supervisor if you work in a large organisation
  • banking any training that you have already had signed off and switching to a new placement
  • raising a grievance about your supervisor

For more information, watch our ‘overcoming challenges during your foundation placement’ video:

Direct approach

In the first instance you could try the direct approach. Bullying is best dealt with at the earliest stage possible. If not the behaviour towards you could become entrenched and harder to stop. Your first step could be to speak directly to the bully. Do make it clear to them that you find the behaviour unacceptable and you want them to stop.

Often, a private, simple, and politely assertive approach is the best way to begin proceedings. Taking somebody with you may make you more confident about tackling the bully.

For example, a simple “don’t speak to me like that” or “I feel that you are undermining / humiliating /being offensive to me, is that your intention?” could be all it takes to stop the bully.

Keep a record

Record keeping is important and, in the event of action such as raising a grievance, a diary can establish a pattern of behaviour. Make a written record of all incidents of bullying behaviour. This should include date and time, what happened and the name of anyone else who was present. Keep all letters, emails, texts, and any other correspondence. Remember, record keeping will show the pattern and extent of the bullying and will be vital if you decide to make a formal complaint. Also, make a note of any illness and/or absence because of the bullying and any medical help you have sought.

If the bully knows you are keeping a written record, it may cause them to think again. Sometimes, just knowing this may cause them to stop the bullying.

Do make sure that you keep your record at home or somewhere safe.

How your colleagues can help you

Do not try to cope on your own if you are being bullied at work. You could talk to a work colleague or a union representative, or your manager. If your manager is bullying you, you could speak to their manager or someone in the HR department. By talking to others, you may find that you are not alone and that the bullying has also happened to other colleagues. You could also discuss your options for changing to another branch or tutor.

Raising a grievance 

You might want to raise a grievance about bullying behaviour. Remember, your employer is responsible for your health, safety, and welfare. Do ask for a copy of your employer’s policy on bullying. If your employer does not have a policy, you could look at the ACAS guidance on how employers should deal with bullying and harassment. You will also find information on how to recognise bullying and why it is important to act.

Look at the ACAS website

The PDA can also give you advice and support about raising a grievance.

Visit the PDA Website

Banking and Switching

If you would rather switch to a new employer you can bank sections of training for which you have a sign-off prior to switching to a new placement. For example, you can bank at week 13 or at week 26 provided you have a satisfactory sign-off. A satisfactory week 39 sign-off can be used to register for the foundation assessment, however week 39 cannot be banked. You would revert to week 27 in your new placement because the final sign-off (week 52) can only be given by a supervisor who has known you for at least six months.

Trainees should note that you must gain GPhC permission before banking and switching. The GPhC will only recognise training that they have approved, any unapproved training will not count toward the standard 52 weeks of foundation training.

For further information about banking and switching, see our Making changes to your foundation placement webpage.

Nothing to bank?

If you have no satisfactory sign-offs you can still change to a new employer, however you will start again at week 1 of the training year. NHS England provides a grant for a maximum of 52 weeks of training. There is no guarantee that any additional training required beyond the 52-week threshold will be paid. A new employer can apply for funding for trainee pharmacists at any stage of their training. However, the employer may not receive funding for any weeks a trainee has to repeat. If this happens, trainees can contact their local NHS integrated care board (ICB) to see if they can be funded for extended training.

Click here to find your local ICB 

Trainees should also check for the GPhC deadlines for beginning an approved foundation placement. Once the window for commencing training at week 1 has closed, trainees will have to wait until the following foundation year to begin their new placement.

For further information about the foundation training grant, see our Foundation training grant page

Support from Pharmacist Support

Counselling (for psychological and emotional support)

We are now able to provide direct psychological support for those who are experiencing mental health issues. We can fund up to eight counselling sessions through a new counselling partnership. 

The counsellors are there to help you deal with a variety of issues. By seeking constructive helpyou may identify ways of addressing the root causes of your concerns to help you to cope. 

More counselling information

Listening Friends (for peer support)

Our Listening Friends service offers you the chance to speak in confidence and anonymously to one of our trained volunteer pharmacists. The peer support provides you with an opportunity to talk about the stresses or pressures working in or studying pharmacy may be causing you. Our volunteers do not provide advice, but they recognise the pressures of pharmacy practice. They can give you time and space to talk through those issues to try to find clarity.  

More Listening Friends information

Support from other organisations

Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH)

EACH is a charity for young people and adults affected by homophobia. They have a helpline for young people who are experiencing homophobic bullying. You can call them on 0800 1000 143.

Visit the EACH Website

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

EHRC offers support to people who are suffering from any form of discrimination. You can call them on 0808 800 0082.

View the EHRC website

National Bullying Helpline

The National Bullying Helpline is a nationally recognised advice centre. They aid individuals struggling with bullying issues, whatever the nature of the abuse. You can call them on 0300 323 0169.

View The National Bullying Helpline website

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA)

The PDA is the trade union for pharmacists, trainee pharmacists and MPharm students. Trainees can join the PDA for free. Take advantage of free employment advice (including workplace bullying) and advice on fitness to practise issues. The PDA also has a range of initiatives to support you through your foundation year.

This webpage was last reviewed and updated in November 2023

Further support for trainee pharmacists

Further support for trainee pharmacists

Foundation trainee pharmacists: making changes to your foundation placement

Information on what to consider if you need to make changes to your foundation training placement. Includes information on progress reports, banking training, switching placements and the training grant.

Further support for trainee pharmacists

Finding a foundation trainee pharmacist placement

Guidance about where to look for placements and what to look out for. Includes information on the different types of placements available, recruitment timetables and contracts.

Further support for trainee pharmacists

Raising a concern: pharmacy education and/or training

This page contains information for people who are unhappy with any aspect of their pharmacy education and/or training and would like to raise a concern.