What is bullying?
Bullying is legally defined as “repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment, which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work”. An isolated incident of the behaviour described in this definition may be an affront to dignity at work but, as a once off incident, is not considered to be bullying. It is important to distinguish inter-personal conflict from bullying.
Bullying can be verbal, physical or cyber bullying through social networking, emails and texts. Bullying may take many different forms such as:
Social exclusion / isolation
Damaging a person’s reputation
Aggressive / obscene language
Repeated requests of impossible tasks / targets
What duties do employers owe?
Employers are obliged to manage health and safety issues, and more importantly to implement health and safety measures. This is particularly pertinent when addressing the identification of bullying and stress in the workplace. An employer’s duty of care regarding the health and safety of employees includes the reasonable prevention of bullying and stress related injuries in the workplace.
Employers are obliged to carry out risk assessments in the preparation of a safety statement. The safety statement should not only relate to physical hazards but also to the risks associated with bullying. Procedures or preventative measures should follow this risk assessment in order to eliminate the risk or reduce the level of risk to an acceptable level.
Employers are obliged to put in place a policy or policies designed to prevent bullying occurring in the first place and not just deal with incidents as they arise. Failure to have such policies can lead to liability being imposed on the employer. The sanctions taken against those employees found to have breached the anti-bullying policy should be clearly outlined in the policy. Formal grievance procedures should be put in place to ensure access to management. Each complaint must be comprehensively investigated.
I am being bullied, what can I do?
It is important that you follow your employer’s grievance procedure. An attempt should be made by you to address an allegation of bullying by informal means in the first instance. You should explain to the alleged perpetrator that their behaviour is unacceptable. If you find it difficult to approach the alleged perpetrator directly, you may seek the assistance of a line manager, colleague, human resource personnel or trade union representative. An appropriate course of action may be mediation or resolving the issue informally. If these particular courses of action are inappropriate or inconclusive a formal investigation may take place.
If the bullying persists, formal procedures can be invoked. You should make a complaint in writing to a member of management. The alleged perpetrator will be notified in writing that an allegation of bullying has been made against them. They will be given a copy of your written statement and afforded an opportunity to respond.
The complaint should be subject to an initial examination by a member of management who is impartial in order to determine an appropriate course of action. An investigation may be carried out by a member of management or a third party. The investigator should meet with you and the alleged perpetrator on an individual basis with a view to establishing the facts surrounding the allegations. Both you and the alleged perpetrator may be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative. On completion of the investigation the investigator should submit a written report to management of the findings of the investigation. Both parties should be afforded an opportunity to comment on the findings of the investigation before any action is decided upon by management. Both you and the alleged perpetrator should be informed in writing of the findings of the investigation.
If the complaint has been deemed well founded by management the matter may be progressed through the employer’s disciplinary procedure.
If either party is unhappy with the outcome of the investigation or feels the complaint has not been dealt with properly by the employer further action can be taken and the issue may be processed through the normal industrial relations mechanisms.
If the bullying is in relation to civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race or membership of the Traveller community, you may be able to bring a case to the Equality Tribunal and a complaint be made under the Equality Acts.
Health and Safety Authority
If the workplace does not have an adequate bullying policy a formal complaint can be made to the Workplace Contact Unit of the Health and Safety Authority.
Constructive dismissal under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 – 2007 should only be availed of where you are left with no other option than to resign. Constructive dismissal is legally defined as “the termination by the employee of his contract of employment with his employer, whether prior notice of the termination was or was not given to the employer, in circumstances in which, because of the conduct of the employer, the employee was or would have been entitled, or it was or would have been reasonable for the employee, to terminate the contract of employment without giving prior notice of the termination to the employer.” It is important that you exhaust any grievance procedure before adopting this course of action and you should obtain legal advice before leaving your job. If you qualify under the unfair dismissals legislation, you may make a claim to the Employment Appeals Tribunal or the Rights Commissioner. If the Tribunal agrees that you were "constructively dismissed", you may be entitled to compensation from your employer.
It should be noted that there are strict time limits provided for in the legislation and some of the time limits can be as short as six months. Legal advice should be taken from your Solicitor as soon as possible to avoid a claim being deemed out of time.
Personal injury claim*
If the bullying at work is so great that it causes your health (physical or psychological) to suffer or be affected, you may also be entitled to bring a claim for compensation for personal injury.
Contact us at Cantillons Solicitors at +353 (0)21 -4275673 or [email protected] if you would like more information.
* In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage of any award or settlement.