Bullying, intimidation, as well as harassment in the workplace can be damaging to an employees health and the stress caused can jeopardise not only the individual’s performance at work and wellbeing, but also adversely affect their livelihood.
Examples of bullying conduct in the Workplace:
- Using obscene language towards another;
- Tarnishing and manipulating someones reputation;
- Undermining someone on purpose;
- Constantly intimidating an individual;
- Giving duties and assignments that are unfavourable and unreasonable to an individual;
- Teasing and jokes that are offensive to the person;
- Privacy intrusion by stalking or spying on someone;
- Giving an employee impossible tasks or impossible deadlines.
Legal Definition of Bullying:
The Industrial Relations Act 1990 (Code of Practice Detailing Procedures for Addressing Bullying in the Workplace) Declaration Order 2002 set out the definition of bullying as :
“Workplace Bullying is 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. An isolated incident of the behaviour described in this definition may be an affront to dignity at work but, as a once off incident, is not considered to be bullying.”1
The implication of this is that the inappropriate behaviour at work must be of a nature that is not a one off event, but instead is behaviour that is consistent forming a pattern which undermines an employees right to dignity at work. The pattern of behaviour is designed to intimidate and/or undermine an employee.
An employer has legal common law duties and statutory duties to their employees in respect of their safety, health, and welfare while at the workplace. Section 8 of the 2005 Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work Act states that an employer must ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees. This is a positive, active and on-going duty imposed on employers.
An employer’s duty can extend to many areas but very briefly an employer should ensure a safe place and safe system of work exists in the workplace for all employees. Safe systems etc. must be implemented and not simply specified as required in a risk assessment.
There are conditions which must be met before one can embark a personal injuries* legal action where the employee is injured at work as a result of bullying:
- the employees injury must be either physical in nature or a recognisable psychiatric illness diagnosed by a Psychiatrist;
- the personal injury* caused by the bullying must have taken place in the workplace;
- the conduct of the employer must be unreasonable and without proper cause, which is judged objectively;
- the injured employee must prove that the bullying behaviour caused the injury and this was reasonably foreseeable by the employer.
The foreseeability test is very important in these actions and the question of what the employer did know, or ought to have known will he investigated thoroughly.
Legal Time Limits:
In personal injury* cases the legal time limit to bring a case is within two years of the date of the first incident, which needs to be correctly indentified. This can prove very problematic in bullying legal actions as bullying by it’s nature occurs over time and there are many incidents. This must be considered carefully when taking such a legal action.
Personal Injuries * In contentious business, a Solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.
Please be advised that the above-mentioned material is intended as an overview and as a broad out-line of the topic discussed. It should not be considered as complete and comprehensive legal advice, nor act as an appropriate substitute.
Due care has been taken in the publication of this article and we do not accept legal liability as a result of reliance on any material covered in the above article.