Blog: Bullying in the workplace
Derek Walsh, litigation solicitor at Keating Connolly Sellors, writes on bullying and the law after giving a recent in-house seminar on bullying in schools and the workplace.
Bullying is defined in paragraph 5 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 (Code of Practice detailing Procedures for Addressing Bullying in the Workplace), as follows:
“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.”
Once off or isolated incidents will not be described as bullying. However, when the behaviour is systematic and ongoing it may be described as bullying.
Bullying in the workplace can take 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
Under section 8 of the Health and Safety Act 2005, 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.
Health & Safety Authority & Workplace Bullying Procedures
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. 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. 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.
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.
Employees can make a complaint under employment equality or Health and Safety Legislation to the Workplace Relations Commission. 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 Act 1977-2007”. If the bullying and 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 in negligence for compensation for personal injury.
Leading Irish Case Law
One of the leading Irish cases concerning bullying and harassment at work is Quigley v Complex Tooling and Moulding. The case illustrates the difficulties faced by a plaintiff in proving a case of personal injury against an employer and the problems a plaintiff can have proving causation. The Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff had been subjected to bullying. The Court accepted the submission that bullying must be repeated, inappropriate and undermine the dignity if the employee at work. However, on the causation side, the Court disallowed his claim. The Court held that on the medical evidence submitted he had not proven that his illness was linked to the bullying.
- Derek Walsh is a litigation solicitor at Keating Connolly Sellors. View his profile and contact details here.