A study undertaken by Dr John Cullinan and Dr Margaret Hodgins at NUI Galway found that a total of 1.7 million days are lost due to workplace bullying every year, at a cost of €239m to the economy.
This proves just how big the problem is.
It is known that the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them.
Some people stand up to the bullying very soon after it starts but, in many cases, the problem only gets worse, undermining self-esteem to such an extent that one is unable to subsequently take on the bully or bullies.
It can have a huge effect on an employee’s well-being, mental health and areas of a person’s life outside of work.
The phrase ‘Stand up to Bullies’ was written on the wall of a workplace canteen where a 43-year-old man took his own life.
Stephen Taylor from Ashbourne, Co Meath was employed as a park ranger by Fingal County Council.
His supervisor said when he entered the canteen he saw the words ‘Stand up to bullies’ written in graffiti on the wall, before discovering Mr Taylor.
Workplace bullying is defined in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 as “repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment, which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work.”
Under this Act, employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace, and to “prevent any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk”.
Employees have a duty not to engage in improper behaviour which would endanger the health, safety and welfare of themselves or the other employees.
Examples of bullying are repeated requests with impossible deadlines, and impossible tasks, intimidation, and social exclusion, and isolation and jokes that are obviously insensitive to one individual.
Each employer must take measures to ensure that employees are not subject to verbal or physical bullying or harassment from their bosses, co-workers or customers.
Every employer should ensure that any complaint is dealt with seriously, and in a manner that does not add to the issues experienced by the employee.
Each employer should take active steps to discharge their obligation and fulfil their duty of care in this matter.
It is important that an employer has a proper policy drawn up in relation to bullying in the workplace, and that a copy is given to all employees.
A key issue in employment cases often is whether fair procedures have been followed by the employer in dealing with the employee’s complaint or in dismissing an employee.
The policies which the employer has in place for such as grievance, bullying and harassment are key in ascertaining whether fair procedures were in place, and these are factors which will be considered at a hearing.
Accordingly, it is important to keep records, correspondence and documents throughout the complaint procedure.
The claimant must prove that the personal injury arising from the stress and bullying in the workplace was reasonably foreseeable by the employer.
Therefore, by informing the employer at an early stage of the stress and/or workplace bullying, it can be difficult for an employer to defend the case on the basis that they had no knowledge of the bullying, later on during the course of the proceedings.
Employers and managers should be alert to the possibility of bullying behaviour, and be familiar with the policies and procedures for dealing with allegations of bullying.
Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law.
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