Bullying At Work

The recently published updated and unified Code of Practice on the Prevention & Resolution of Bullying at work places a helpful stronger emphasis on informal resolution of bullying issues that arise, as well as providing further clarifications on what behaviours do not constitute bullying.

The new single code which was developed jointly by the Health & Safety Authority (HSA) and the Workplace Relations Commission ( WRC) is intended to provide practical guidance to employers about how to prevent bullying occur, as well as how to process bullying complaints that arise in the workplace.

The previous definition of bullying has not changed and is restated to be seriously negative targeted behaviours over a period of time, that are clearly wrong and undermining, in a harmful sustained way, including but not limited to:

  • Exclusion with negative results
  • Verbal abuse and insults
  • Intrusion such as pestering, spying or stalking
  • Excessive monitoring of work
  • Blaming a person for things beyond their control
  • Aggressive & Intimidatory interactions
  • Repeatedly manipulating a person’s job content and targets
  • Disseminating malicious rumours, gossip or innuendo

and helpfully some specific examples of what is not considered to be workplace bullying is set out, including:

  • Ordinary performance management
  • Expressing differences of opinion strongly
  • Offering constructive feedback, guidance or advice about work related behaviour which is not welcome
  • Reasonable corrective action
  • Workplace conflict in which people disagree or disregard another persons point of view.

It should be noted as well that cyber and digital related behaviours may be classified as bullying.

The Code then identifies a number of principles and steps for employers who may need to respond to a complaint of workplace bullying, with a strong emphasis and required early intervention and informal approach. Significantly unlike in the previous Codes, a second informal stage is required if an initial informal intervention is not successful, before moving to a formal investigatory stage.

Both informal stages are intended to offer a problem solving approach that is non adversarial, in order that any inappropriate behaviour can be highlighted with the alleged perpetrator, and should be conducted by managers that are appropriately trained to deal with complaints in this manner. A separate contact person to offer advice on the policy is also recommended, and in smaller organisations, it may be necessary to rely on external persons to fulfill these roles. It should also be noted that nominal records should be maintained in respect of the informal stages, and this will be important to show compliance with the Code and that suitable efforts were made to deal with complaints.

The Code also continues to highlight that mediation remains a very important option at all stages of a bullying compliant, but particularly in the early stages, when a facilitated process, with the voluntary cooperation of the parties to the complaint, can help avoid an unnecessary escalation into a formal investigation process.

Finally in the event that informal resolution proves unsuccessful, a formal stage may be initiated to include a fact finding formal investigation, to focus on what did or not happen, and if it meets the bullying definition.

Employers must now ensure that their anti bullying and dignity at work policies are updated to reflect the new Code, and whilst adherence to the Code is not a statutory obligation, it can be admissible in evidence and employers would be wise to follow the Code and update their policies accordingly. Additionally, the HSA now has a role in determining how adequate an employers response was to an employee’s complaint, if they are unhappy with the outcome, and can issue enforcement action, including the referral of a file to the DPP for failing to protect an employee from bullying.