Employers must adopt effective policies to protect staff from workplace bullies, it was claimed today.
With as many as nine out of 10 employees aware of harassment at work, company bosses and senior managers were warned they had to be responsible for combating stress, intimidation and bullying of staff.
David Fagan, O’Donnell Sweeney Solicitors, noted changes to legislation and warned bosses had be aware of the risks of not protecting employees.
“Harassment is now to be viewed under the legislation through the eyes of the harassed person, even if their view of matters is not entirely objective,” he said.
“Therefore a claim that any reasonable person would not have thought the matter to be harassment is no longer a defence that employers can use.”
The National Study on the Nature and Extent of Workplace Bullying from 2001 revealed 40% of employees felt bullying was a regular occurrence at work and that more than 54% of respondents considered young or inexperienced workers to be most vulnerable.
But delegates at the employment law seminar in Dublin heard how workers were gaining the upper hand in the fight against harassment in the workplace.
And the conference was told bullying could take many forms from undermining an individual’s right to dignity at work, humiliation, intimidation, verbal abuse or simply exclusion and isolation.
“The problem is that employers don’t always recognise bullying as it can sometimes be subtle or conducted covertly,” Jim Trueick, partner at O’Donnell Sweeney Solicitors said.
Experts at the Bullying, Stress and Harassment in the Workplace seminar said it was critical to have a written company policy and procedures in place to deal with grievances and if possible to go the informal route.
But they were warned that formal processes had to be adopted when necessary.
Maire Halpin, human resources consultant, told the seminar employers were obliged to introduce a clear set of standards of behaviour for their employees. And that company policy and procedures should indicate how to address problems which arise.
“The line manager has a role to play in highlighting bullying and harassment if and when it occurs and should always be vigilant and take immediate action if any such activity comes to their attention,” said Ms Halpin.
“They must be objective in interactions with both parties and establish if both parties can work together and work with the HR professional to ensure a satisfactory outcome.”