Workplace Bullying & What Steps Employers Should Take to Stamp It Out.
The Health and Safety Authority, together with the Workplace Relations Commission, have jointly published an updated code of practice on bullying in the workplace.
Employers should have a comprehensive anti-bullying policy as part of their employee handbook. This new code reflects that such policies should take account of the health and safety of employees, as well as employment law generally, when aiming to prevent bullying.
Despite common misconceptions, bullying in the workplace is difficult for the victim to establish. The Code confirms that bullying occurs where there is “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 be reasonably regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work“.
While the test for what is bullying is quite specific, the fact remains that many employees successfully establish that their employer failed or neglected to take reasonable steps to prevent that bullying.
In order to avoid the risks which follow an employee being bullied, employers must be proactive. The Code states that employers should act reasonably to resolve bullying at the earliest possible stage. Employees similarly bear some obligations, such as to take care of their own safety and to cooperate with employer obligations.
The Code suggests pursuing an initial informal process followed by a formal grievance procedure if the complaint has not been resolved.
Similar to standard grievance procedures, there is a requirement for the principles of fair procedures and natural justice to be reflected throughout the process.
It is worth noting that under the Industrial Relations Act, 1990, codes of practice are admissible in evidence and shall be taken into account in determining relevant questions which arise. As such it makes sense for employers to draft their policies in line with codes of practice, so as to be proactive in managing employee welfare while also limiting risk.
Where the Health and Safety Authority are concerned, employers can be prosecuted under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 for failure to comply with certain provisions of that Act. This includes situations where the health of employees has been placed at risk due to insufficient efforts to prevent bullying of employees.
For further information in relation to this or any other employment related topic please do not hesitate to contact Brendan Dillon or Conor White on 01-2960666.