Bullying in the workplace
Bullying is repeated inappropriate behaviour that undermines your right to dignity at work. It can be done by one or more persons and it is aimed at an individual or a group to make them feel inferior to other people. Bullying can be verbal bullying, physical bullying or cyber bullying which is carried out on the internet or mobile phones, through social networking sites, email and texts. It can take many different forms such as:
- Social exclusion and isolation
- Damaging someone’s reputation by gossip or rumours
- Aggressive or obscene language
- Repeated requests with impossible tasks or targets
In 2005 the Expert Advisory Group on Workplace Bullying (pdf) reported that bullying is an increasing problem in the workplace. A survey on bullying was carried out as recommended by the Group and Bullying in the Workplace, Survey Reports 2007 was published. In many European countries the term 'mobbing' is used instead of bullying to describe this type of hostile behaviour in the workplace.
The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 place an obligation on all employers to prevent harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment and harassment on any of the following grounds – civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race or membership of the Traveller community – are forms of discrimination in relation to conditions of employment. Bullying which is not linked to one of the discriminatory grounds above is not covered by the Employment Equality Acts.
The Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work aims to give practical guidance to employers, and employees on how to prevent sexual harassment and harassment at work and how to put procedures in place to deal with it.
If you are being bullied at work and it is not covered by the Employment Equality Acts, you may still have legal rights – see ‘How to apply’ below.
Health and safety at work
Bullying in the workplace can affect both the safety and the health of employees. Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace. Under section 8 of the Act your employer is required to“prevent any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk”. Your duty as an employee is not to engage in improper behaviour which would endanger the health, safety and welfare of yourself or the other employees.
The Health and Safety Authority works to ensure that workplace bullying is not tolerated and that employers have procedures for dealing with bullying at work. It provides information and advice on bullying and is responsible for the Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work (pdf). This Code sets out guidance notes for employees, employers and trade unions on dealing with bullying in the workplace.
Your employer must take reasonable steps to prevent bullying in the workplace. There should be an anti-bullying policy and established procedures for dealing with complaints of bullying in the workplace. Your employer should deal with such complaints immediately. The Workplace Relations Commission has a Code of Practice detailing Procedures for Addressing Bullying in the Workplace.
How to apply
You need to find out what to do if you feel you are being bullied. The National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre can provide guidance on your options. You should begin by making it very clear to the person concerned that you find their behaviour unacceptable and undermining. If this informal approach is not enough to resolve the issue and in situations where the bullying continues, you may need to consider making a formal complaint. You should report the bullying to a manager. Your employer's policy on bullying should clearly set out what will happen when a formal complaint is made, how the complaint will be investigated and who will carry out the investigation, taking into account issues of confidentiality and the rights of both parties.
If you feel that your complaint about bullying has not been dealt with properly by your employer, you may make a complaint under employment equality or health and safety legislation to the Workplace Relations Commission. You must use the online complaint form available on workplacerelations.ie and complaints must be brought within 6 months. This time limit can be increased to 12 months if “reasonable cause” for the delay can be shown
Unfair dismissal: If the bullying becomes unbearable and you are forced to leave your job, you may be entitled to claim constructive dismissal under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977-2007. This means that although you left your job voluntarily, in reality you were forced to do so because of the way that you were being treated. It is recommended that you should obtain legal advice about your rights before leaving your job. If you qualify under the unfair dismissals legislation, you may make a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission.
Victimisation: If you bring a claim under employment equality, health and safety, or unfair dismissals legislation you cannot then be subjected to victimisation at work.
Personal injury claim: If the bullying or harassment 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. You cannot seek compensation from your employer under the health and safety legislation but you can make a personal injury claim through InjuriesBoard.ie.