Over the years, bullying or mistreatment has taken a devastating form. It has made its way to the workplaces from school playgrounds. In fact, bullying at work is a very common phenomenon nowadays. There is no formal statistic available yet to support this claim, but rough estimation says, 40% (2 in 5) of the Irish workers have been the victims of workplace bullying.
What is workplace bullying?
Bullying refers to unwanted or unexpected behaviors. Usually, it includes unfair treatment, any sort of violence, abuse, humiliation, intimidation and undermining one’s confidence and dignity.
When you are intimidated, frightened, humiliated, or to some extent degraded frequently, over a period of time, because of someone’s behavior, you are bullied.
No one is supposed to tolerate bullying, no one needs to be a victim and suffer continuously. So let’s discuss 10 things you should know about bullying at work.
What you should know about Bullying at Work:
Initial steps: Initially, when you feel that you are being bullied, you should do these two things:
· #Keep notes: To be able to put a clear description of the events, and to deal with the formal and legal approaches, you should keep notes. Your notes might include brief description of the fact, date and time, outcome, witness etc.
· #Keep or collect evidence: Try to collect all the evidence possible. Such as letters, fax, mails, screenshots, text, memos etc. A lot of people miss this step thinking that it’s anyway on the phone. However, you may find it hard to find the exact words while in a hurry.
Approach to the person bullying: According to the code of practice on addressing bullying in the workplace order, 2002, an employee should approach the person bullying, and talk about things they don’t like and all the concerns. Remember to keep it confidential or other legal issues may come in. This move may settle things in the onset. And don’t forget to keep records of your conversations.
Note: You may take any higher authority with you.
If the informal procedure does not work out, go for the formal procedures.
Complain formally to your employer (Grievance): Disclose your problems to your employer. Follow the complaining procedures or grievance policy of you workplace. Exhaust all of them. However, remember, never go for a tantrum.
If nothing changes even after exhausting the grievance, it is time to find a legal way.
Basic Laws and legalities: It is not possible to make a legal claim directly about bullying, but complaints can be made under other laws. The Irish government, to uphold the rights of the employees, enacted laws. Therefore, these laws provide scopes for claiming damages.
· The Employment Equality Act, 1998
· The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005
· Industrial relations act, 1990
A code for dealing with harassment was made under The Employment Equality Act in 2015.
The Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolutions of Bullying was made under the SH&W act in 2007.
The Code of Practice on addressing bullying in the workplace order, 2002, was made under the Industrial Relations Act, 1990.
And, according to the Code of Practice on addressing bullying in the workplace order, 2002 a one -off incident is not bullying. It demands repeated inappropriate behavior and an objective test.
Constructive dismissal: Remember, in a case of constructive dismissal, the burden of proof is always on the employee.
Situation is such that you have made a formal complaint, tried to overcome following the workplace policy, but nothing has worked out. In such circumstances, you can leave the job willingly, and, later, you can bring a lawsuit of constructive dismissal or loss of earnings. A case of constructive dismissal functions under the Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1977-2015. Even though you left your job willingly, in reality, you had to leave the job because of bullying in the first place.
Vicarious Liability: It is a serious HR issue and breach of employer’s policies, if an employee is bullying others. If a fellow employee bullies you, your employer can always be held vicariously liable and made to pay damages under section 80 of The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, states the personal liability for directors and officers of the company.
Personal injury claim: Usually, it goes to the Personal Injuries Board. However, nowadays we consider mental distress, anxiety or psychological injury as personal injury, so the Personal Injury Board will not deal with these issues. Rather you will have to claim mental distress under tort law. A psychological injury has the same gravity of physical injury, as the court recognizes it. So claiming under tort laws, you can be awarded damages.
Other Civil Claims:
1. Breach of contract: It is considered that an employer and an employee have a contract in the first place. Every employer is supposed to provide a safe workplace. Therefore, you can claim that your employer has broken the contract.
2. Negligence claim: Concerned employer must have taken steps to prevent bullying and ensure safety. However, the employer didn’t do anything, even after the grievance. So the employer was negligent.
3. Claim under health and safety legislation: You can claim for mental distress under the health and safety legislation. Most of the victims suffer psychological harms as well.
Section 8 of the SH&W Act states that employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace
Section 20 states that an employer is required to prepare a safety statement.
4. A claim under equality legislation for harassment: The Employment Equality Act, 1998, protects certain criteria or characteristics known as protected characteristics for bullying to be termed as harassment. If the behavior involves any of those nine grounds of discrimination, you can claim under the legislation. Besides, you can claim for mental distress under this legislation.
Bullying can also be termed as a criminal offence, e.g., sexual assault, physical attack, or if your things are stolen. Section 78 of The Health Safety and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, deals with criminal persecution of such offences.
Section 27 of the SH&W Act protects you from being penalized after raising a bullying issue. RC service will help you in such circumstances.
You have your options and legal rights. Therefore, it is time to raise your voice, and most importantly take action.