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The results of a recent Europe-wide survey, which were reported on in TheJournal.ie’s article Irish workplaces among worst in Europe for bullying, highlighted worrying levels of bullying within companies in Ireland. According to the survey, Ireland is the 7th worst country in Europe when it comes to workplace bullying with a significant 6% of employees claiming to experience it.

Tom O’Driscoll, SIPTU’s Head of Legal Affairs, explained that “It can be physical abuse but it’s usually abusive name-calling, putting undue pressure on people, singling people out, commenting on their performance…” etc.

Bullying in the workplace is any recurring inappropriate conduct that undermines a person’s right to dignity at work. Bullying can be carried out by one person or by several people – it is aimed at an individual or a group where the objective is to make them feel inferior or victimised. Bullying can come in the form of a verbal or physical assault and can also take place over the internet – this is known as cyber bullying and can be performed via many methods – Mobile phones, social networking sites, emails and texts are all common vehicles for cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is becoming more and more prevalent in society.

Keep in mind that harassment based on civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, race, nationality or ethnic origin, disability or membership of the Traveller community is considered discrimination.

Harassment in the workplace is prohibited under the terms of the Employment Equality Acts. The Act of harassment – whether direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional – is unacceptable and should not be tolerated by any company.   Any allegations should be dealt with seriously, promptly and confidentially with a thorough and immediate investigation. Any acts of harassment should be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.  Any victimisation of an employee for reporting an incident, or assisting with an investigation of alleged harassment and/or bullying is a breach of Equality Legislation and should also be subject to disciplinary action.

Bullying or harassment isn’t always obvious – in fact it can come in many shapes and forms – some examples are:

•Social exclusion or isolation

•Damaging someone’s reputation through gossip or rumour

•Any form of intimidation

•Aggressive or obscene language or behaviour

•Repeated requests for unreasonable tasks to be carried out

 

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Employers – Did you know that you can be held accountable for bullying or harassment in the workplace?

……..Not being aware of it does not get you off the hook!

Under current Irish Employment Legislation (The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011) companies are accountable when it comes to bullying and harassment in the workplace. It is vital for employers to be mindful of the legislation as companies are answerable for the actions of employees, suppliers and customers even in cases where the company is not aware that bullying or harassment is taking place.

To defend itself; a company must illustrate how it did everything reasonably practicable to prevent bullying and/or harassment from taking place in the workplace. The company must also show that when an instance of bullying or harassment occurred the company took immediate, fair and decisive action.

There is a huge risk of exposure if companies do not adhere to the strict Regulations. Those found in violation of the Act may be liable for fines and in severe circumstances imprisonment on summary conviction. Companies can also end up paying out large sums in compensation.

Sample award – In June 2013, a fast food company in Blackpool, Cork was forced to pay €15,000 after two employees were subjected to sexual harassment by another employee.

An Equality Tribunal ruling found that a lesbian couple, who both worked for the restaurant in Cork, were forced to endure obscene remarks and queries about their relationship and sexuality from another employee at the branch.

The Tribunal found that management at the restaurant failed in their duty to take the appropriate steps to protect the women. They failed in their responsibilities to their employees and consequently were instructed to pay €15,000 to the couple.

Under Irish Employment Legislation it is the duty of the employer to provide a workplace that is safe for lesbian women and gay men to be open about their sexuality.

This is something that all employers need to pay close attention to.

Bullying creates a very hostile work environment and can negatively affect employee performance – It can lead to disengagement and low levels of morale. It can also cause a company to lose key members of staff. Bullying can affect both the safety and the health of employees – this violates the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

It is abundantly clear that it is in the best interest of all stakeholders to prevent bullying or harassment of any form in the workplace.

Employers need to be vigilant and need to make more of an effort to consciously crack down on this type of activity.

In order to avoid bullying and harassment an employer should include harassment-related policies and procedures in the Employee Handbook – A Dignity at Work Policy should be communicated clearly to employees. This will clarify what is expected of employees and what the protocol/repercussions are if bullying/harassment does occur.

The Europe-wide survey found that females between the ages of 30 and 49 are most likely to be bullied at work. Males between the ages of 15 and 29 are the second most likely group to experience bullying.  Women in the same age group are most likely to experience sexual harassment.

In December 2013 the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) brought our attention to a shocking statistic when it revealed that the number of racist incidents reported in Ireland in the first 11 months of 2013 had jumped 85% on the same period in 2012. The racism reported related to alleged discrimination, written harassment, verbal harassment and physical violence. A massive 20% of the reported incidents of racism occurred in the workplace.

       

             The area of workplace bullying clearly requires immediate attention in Ireland.

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