Harassment laws ‘becoming more protective of employees’

BOSSES can no longer rely on the defence that a reasonable person would not consider particular behaviour to be bullying, harassment or sexual harassment, it emerged yesterday.

Speaking at an Employment Law Seminar in Dublin solicitor David Fagan brought delegates up to date with the latest legislative developments.

“Recent developments suggest that legislation is likely to become more protective of employees, not less, and as the employer is often the person faced with ultimate liability, employers have to be aware of the risks, and to operate control systems that are both workable and commercially cost effective”, said Mr Fagan who works with O’Donnell Sweeney Solicitors.

Mr Fagan said that in particular, under the legislation harassment is now to be viewed through the eyes of the harassed person, even if their view of matters is not entirely objective.

“A claim that any reasonable person would not have thought the matter to be harassment is no longer a defence that employers can use,” he told delegates.

Employers were also told by solicitor Jim Trueick at the seminar - Bullying, Stress and Harassment in the Workplace - that they must ensure they have effective systems and policies to deal with the issues.

“If the grievance is upheld, the issue moves into the disciplinary area and clear and fair procedures (in writing) are vital. The failure to have, or follow procedures, is inviting an aggrieved person to seek more formal external redress because he feels his employer does not regard his complaint as serious or that he believes he did not get a fair hearing,” said Mr Trueick.

Human resource (HR) consultant Maire Halpin looked at the implications for the HR sector with regards to bullying and harassment and encouraged employers to ensure a work culture which is free from bullying and harassment. She stressed that it is the obligation of employers to set clear standards of behaviour for employees.

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