Bullying in the workplace
Bullying is repeated inappropriate behaviour that undermines your right to dignity at work. It usually takes place over a period of time. 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 direct or indirect, and can include verbal, physical or cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is bullying which is carried out online, through mobile phones, social networking sites, email or texts. Bullying 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 on 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. Under this law, you are entitled to bring a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission and your employer may be obliged to pay you compensation if you are harassed by reason of your:
- Civil status
- Family status, for example, as a parent of a child
- Sexual orientation
- Religious belief
- Membership of the Traveller community
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 paragraph below on ‘How to make a complaint’.
Employer's obligations - 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 (as amended) 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 make a complaint
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 also:
- Check your employer’s policy on bullying and harassment.
- Try to resolve any issues informally in the first instance. If this is not successful you can then take a formal approach.
Informal - You should begin by making it very clear to the person concerned that you find their behaviour unacceptable and undermining. Your employer may have a contact person in the employer policy, who can provide information to you on the process. 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.
Formal - 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. All complaints must be made 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 1977-2015. 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. You may make a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission, if you qualify under the unfair dismissals legislation.
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 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.ie.
If you need more information, see the Health and Safety Authority website.