No employer wants to learn that one of their employees is experiencing bullying or harassment at work. Workplace bullying is a health and safety issue and employers have a duty to provide a safe place of work. The consequences of failing to so provide can be extreme; ranging from lost productivity to reputational damage to high staff turn-over to civil liability for personal injuries or constructive dismissal.

Bullying and harassment is conduct that has the effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating a hostile working environment for that person.

Bullying is defined as being repeated unwanted behaviour and can include targeting, undermining, excluding or intimidating an individual. It can also include tarnishing one’s reputation, aggressive behaviour, unreasonable assignments or impossible deadlines. Bullying can lead to stress or other medical conditions, and can result in personal injury claims. Employers have a duty under health and safety legislation to ensure employees are protected from it.

Harassment is defined as any unwanted conduct or inferior treatment based on an individual’s gender, civil status, family status, age, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or membership of the Traveller community. The Employment Equality Acts allow a worker to bring a case to the WRC if they have experienced harassment by reason of any of the nine grounds, and an employer will be liable to pay compensation if they are found to have not taken steps to prevent and tackling harassment.

Where bullying or harassment becomes an issue, it is important for the employer to take the matter very seriously and conduct an investigation, following both fair procedures and the bullying, harassment and disciplinary procedures. There will be a fine balance to be struck in respect of protecting the complainant and ensuring that no unfair measures are taken in respect of the accused during the course of the investigation.

All workplaces should have a Bullying and Harassment Policy in place, which sets out that conduct that undermines the dignity of any person will not be tolerated. The policy should have a procedure in place for reporting bullying or harassment as well as a procedure for dealing with allegations. All employees suffering from the effects of bullying or harassment should be offered support.

This article is for information purposes only, and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. Fitzsimons Redmond will be happy to tailor advice to suit the needs of your organisation, and work with you to develop policies and procedures appropriate to your business. You can contact us on 01 6763257.

By Lisa Quinn O’Flaherty

Solicitor at Fitzsimons Redmond