Bullying at work
What is bullying?
Bullying is repeated inappropriate behaviour that undermines your right to dignity at work. An isolated incident is not considered to be bullying, it usually takes place over a period of time. Bullying can be done by one or more people and can be aimed at an individual or a group.
The terms bullying and harassment are different. A behaviour can be considered to be either bullying or harassment but not both. You can get more information about harassment at work.
By law, employers must prevent improper conduct or behaviour, which includes bullying. A summary of your employer’s anti-bullying policy should be displayed prominently within the workplace.
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) works to ensure that workplace bullying is not tolerated and it provides information and advice on bullying. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) offers a mediation service to help resolve issues informally before a formal process is initiated.
Types of bullying
Bullying can be direct or indirect, and can include verbal, physical or cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is bullying that happens online. It can include offensive and abusive messages. It also includes hacking into accounts or spreading rumours online.
Bullying can take many different forms such as:
- Social exclusion and isolation
- Verbal abuse and insults
- Being treated less favourably than colleagues in similar roles
- Belittling a person’s opinion
- Spreading malicious rumours, gossip or innuendo
- Intrusion - pestering, spying or stalking
- Intimidation and aggressive interactions
- Excessive monitoring of work
- Withholding information needed for the person to do their job properly
- Repeatedly manipulating a person’s job contents and targets
- Blaming a person for things beyond their control
- Use of aggressive or obscene language
- Other menacing behaviour
An isolated incident of the above behaviour is not considered to be bullying.
Bullying can happen at all levels within an organisation and can be conducted by customers, clients and business contacts.
Employer’s obligations to prevent bullying
Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace. This is set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (as amended).
Under section 8 of the Act your employer must “prevent any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk”. This includes bullying.
Code of practice on the prevention and resolution of bullying
The Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work (pdf) is effective since 23 December 2020. The code sets out detailed procedure for dealing with formal and informal complaints about bullying.
Under the Code, your employer must:
- Take reasonable steps to prevent bullying in the workplace
- Have an anti-bullying policy for dealing with complaints of bullying (see Appendix 1 of the Code: How to prepare an anti-bullying policy)
- Develop the anti-bullying policy in consultation with employees
- Prepare a Safety Statement based on an assessment of the risk of bullying
Under the Code, you must:
- Not engage in improper behaviour which would endanger the health, safety and welfare of yourself or the other employees
- Comply with relevant anti-bullying policies
- Co-operate with your employer when an allegation of bullying at work is being investigated
What to do if you are bullied at work
You need to find out what to do if you feel you are being bullied.
- Gather evidence
If you think you are being bullied keep copies of any relevant supporting information, like notes or emails. Check your employer’s policy on bullying and harassment and follow the guidelines.
- Get advice
Speak to someone about how you might deal with the problem. This could be a friend or colleague, a designated person at work, a trade union representative or your manager or supervisor.
You can get also get advice on your options from the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre or the HSA Contact Centre.
- Try to resolve the issue informally
Try to resolve the issue informally in the first place. Very often, an informal approach will resolve the issue. You should follow the process set out below.
How to make an informal complaint
Your employer should deal with your complaint immediately. The company can appoint a Contact Person to act as a first step for employees. The Contact Person would not be involved in investigating the complaint.
Initial informal Process
You should begin by making it clear to the person that you find their behaviour unacceptable and undermining. You could also put it in writing, if you prefer. Focus on what they have done (offending acts) and the effects it has on you.
Your employer may have a Contact Person named in the anti-bullying policy, who can give you information on the process.
The person responsible for managing the complaint should keep a brief written record of the issue and agreed outcomes and dates.
Secondary informal process
The secondary informal process can be used if the initial informal process is not successful or your employer thinks it is not appropriate for the seriousness of the complaint.
Your employer can nominate a separate person to investigate the complaint. This person should not be the Contact Person. The nominated person should have the appropriate training and experience and be familiar with the procedures. They may be a supervisor, manager or someone in authority within your organisation.
The nominated person responsible for managing the complaint should keep a record of all stages of the investigation. You should check your employer’s anti-bullying policy for the steps to follow under the secondary informal process.
The WRC provides a mediation service, if both parties agree to it. The Mediator's Institute of Ireland (MII) have a list of accredited meditators that also provide private workplace mediation services. You get more details from mii.ie. Mediation can help to resolve issues informally before a formal process is initiated.
For more details on the informal process, see the Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work (pdf).
If these informal approaches are not enough to resolve the issue and in situations where the bullying continues, you may need to consider making a formal complaint.
How to make 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
- Who will carry out the investigation taking into account issues of confidentiality and the rights of both parties
The company’s investigator should meet with you and any witnesses or relevant other people on a confidential basis. You can bring a work colleague or trade union representative with you to this meeting. This applies to both the complainant and the person complained of.
Your employer should keep records and copies of written statements should be given to both parties.
Appealing the investigation
Your employer’s Anti-bullying policy should include an appeals process. It should set out the time period for making an appeal. The person hearing the appeal should have had no involvement in the investigation.
You should be supported during the formal complaints process. For example through the Contact Person or advisory support services, where possible.
For more details on the formal and appeals processes, see the Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work (pdf).
Taking your complaint further
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. All complaints must be made within 6 months. This time limit can be increased to 12 months if you can show there was a “reasonable cause” for the delay.
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 1977-2015. This means that although you left your job voluntarily, in reality you were forced to because of the way you were being treated.
You should get legal advice about your rights before leaving your job. You may make a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission, if you qualify under the unfair dismissals legislation.
You cannot be penalised (or punished) for bringing a claim under employment equality, health and safety, or unfair dismissals legislation.
Personal injury claim
If the bullying at work is so great that it causes your physical or psychological health to suffer or be affected, you may also be entitled to bring a claim for compensation for personal injury.
You cannot look for compensation from your employer under the health and safety legislation but you can make a personal injury claim through the Personal Injuries Assessment Board.
Code of practice on the prevention and resolution of bullying
The Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work (pdf) is effective since 23 December 2020. This code replaced the HSA’s ‘Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work’ and the LRC (now WRC) ‘Code of Practice Detailing Procedures for Addressing Bullying in the Workplace’.
The Code sets out the responsibilities and the roles of the HSA and the WRC. It gives guidance for employees, employers and trade unions on dealing with an informal and formal bullying complaint in the workplace.