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!

 shutterstock_96487070-390x285

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, 1998 to 2007. 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

Employers Beware:

Under current Irish employment legislation (The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011) companies are accountable when it comes to bullying and harassment in the workplace or workplace disputes. 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.

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.

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.

Last week the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) brought our attention to a shocking statistic – The ICI revealed that the number of racist incidents reported in Ireland over the last 12 months had jumped to a staggering figure – They dealt with 120 individual racism cases in the past
year. 52 of these instances were reported in June/July of 2013 alone marking a huge increase when compared to the same period in 2012 when just 3 incidents were reported.

The racism reported related to alleged discrimination, written harassment, verbal harassment and physical violence.

The most commonly reported setting for racism was the workplace – where a massive 20% of reported incidents occurred.

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

Disciplinary Procedures Guide: Download