Bullying and harassment in the workplace can be very distressing for employees and may make it impossible to work effectively. It can also lead to serious psychological injury. Bullying is repeated inappropriate behaviour that undermines your right to dignity at work. It can be aimed at an individual or a group and can many different forms including:
- Purposely undermining an individual
- Targeting an individual for special negative treatment
- The manipulation of a person’s reputation
- Social exclusion or isolation
- Aggressive or obscene behaviour
- Jokes that are obviously offensive to one person
- Intrusion by pestering
- Spying and stalking
Employer Responsibilities to Prevent Bullying
In the Supreme Court case of Ruffley v The Board of Management of St. Anne’s School and confirmed that the definition of workplace bullying 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 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, it is not considered to be bullying.’
Employers 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. Complaints should be dealt with immediately.
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.
If you are being bullied at work and it is not covered by the Employment Equality Acts, you may still have legal rights under Health and safety at work legislation. 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. Your employer is required to “prevent any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk”.
If you feel you have been bullied or harassed in the workplace, you can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission under the Employment Equality Acts or health and safety legislation. Complaints must be brought within 6 months. However, this time limit can be extended if there is ‘reasonable cause’.
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. Complaints under the Unfair Dismissals Acts should be made in the Workplace Relations Commission and if you are successful here you may be entitled to financial compensation.
If the bullying or harassment at work is so great that it causes your health to suffer, you may also be entitled to bring a claim for compensation for personal injury.
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