Constructive Dismissal

An employee was successful in her recent claim for unfair dismissal on grounds of constructive dismissal because her employer failed to deal with complaints of bullying she had raised against a colleague.

In the recently published case (UD 2093/2011) the claimant successfully discharged the high onus of proof required in a constructive dismissal claim that she had no choice but to resign her employment due to the failure of her employer to deal adequately with her complaint of bullying treatment by a colleague.

The employee concerned verbally complained about her colleague’s behavior but said that after her manager spoke to her colleague things only got worse and she had to go on sick leave after she received no response to a written complaint she issued.  Her employer subsequently despite agreeing to arrange mediation did not respond to calls or correspondence from the Citizens Information Centre or her solicitor. 

The EAT determined that the employer had failed to deal with the claimant’s complaints in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable time-frame and did not react as would have been expected from a reasonable employer when the bullying behavior was brought to their attention.  In addition the EAT did not believe that the offer to re-engage the claimant was acceptable in the circumstances and did not deal in any appropriate manner with the outstanding complaints she had in the workplace.  The EAT awarded the claimant€24,000 in compensation.

Employer Tips On Dealing With Bullying Complaints:

There are some useful learning points for employers from this case on how bullying complaints should be dealt with:

  • Put in place a clear dignity at work policy for all staff that sets out standards of behavior required in the workplace as well as the complaints procedure;
  • NEVER ignore a complaint from an an employee whether verbal or in writing;
  • Acknowledge complaints received straight away and outline next steps in process to deal with complaint;
  • Consider whether the parties are open to mediation on the issues or the matter being resolved informally (however the complainant has right to insist on a formal investigation);
  • Consider whether it is necessary to have an independent investigation undertaken by an external impartial third party;
  • Set out terms of reference for any formal investigation that will take place and ensure that an independent impartial investigation is carried out with thorough interviews and a detailed review of relevant evidence;
  • Ensure that all parties involved including witnesses maintain full confidentiality throughout the process; and
  • Ensure that the organisational policy is followed at all times in respect of time-frames and communications and any necessary deviations from the policy are communicated to parties.