Bullying - Employer Perspective - Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a definition of bullying in the workplace?

The Task Force (March 2001) defines workplace bullying 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 be 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.

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If I receive a complaint of workplace bullying how do I deal with it?

(a)   Make sure that the employee making the complaint is aware of the Anti-Bullying Policy and how they should comply with the terms and procedures of the policy.

(b)  Inform the complainant that the policy must be followed, that confidentiality is very important and that the aim is to resolve the matter and move on in a constructive way.

(c)  Initially, listen to the complaint and assess it – would it be possible for the matter to be resolved by the complainant, a contact person, or the employer approaching the individual accused of bullying and informing him or her of the effect of their behaviour and requesting it to stop?

(d) An informal approach involves the complainant/employee discussing options, agreeing a way forward without records and without recourse to any investigation.  This approach should be encouraged as much as possible, depending on the behaviour, so that both parties can be supported with the aim of eliminating the behaviour to the satisfaction of all concerned.

(e) Remember that if the complainant refuses to engage the informal procedures, a note should be taken of this and the formal stage followed, if the complaint is a bullying one, and that determination should be given some consideration – see definition. It is ultimately up to the employer to decide how to manage the issue, using Codes and guides to inform him or herself whether it falls within the scope of bullying and how to handle it internally.  However, if the employer fails to investigate a bona fide complaint, it may be used against him or her should the case be taken to an external arbitrator at a late date.  The ‘reasonable’ behaviour of a ‘reasonable’ employer is what should be used as a guide.  If your policy indicates that most bullying complaints will, if not remedied at the informal stage, go on to formal stage – then that is what should occur on the ground

(f) If the matter is brought forward as a formal issue and management sets up an investigation panel, the procedures set out in the Codes (HSA and Enterprise, Trade & Innovation) to investigate allegations formally should be followed.  Give both parties the time frame and the findings, in writing and the remedy proposed.

(g) Determine what type of support is needed e.g. counselling for either the alleged perpetrator or complainant or some less formal support from a manager or supervisor/health personnel during the process.

(h) Bring closure to the issue and recognise it as an important challenge, whatever the outcome, communicate regularly with the parties involved and ensure a proper system is in place for future monitoring/management of that relationship and those affected.  Where an allegation has been upheld, retrain and monitor the perpetrator so that the hazardous behaviour is eliminated and put in place some practicable rehabilitation for the complainant in order to assist a speedy and effective return to work with minimum stress.

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What is the role of the HSA?

The role of the Authority is a policy one.  The HSA can assist in terms of policy development and preventive systems.  However, the management of the issue generally at organisational level is the responsibility of the employer.

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Who has an interventionist role?

The Adjudication Service, under the Workplace Relations Commission, have the only interventionist role in this issue. A complainant may contact the Adjudication Service at the Workplace Relations Commission on 01 6313380 at Lansdowne House, Lansdowne Road, Dublin 4. The Adjudication Service deal with bullying grievances.

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What should an employer do if they receive a letter from the HSA saying there has been an allegation of workplace bullying and requesting an Anti-Bullying policy?

Reply, enclosing policy.  Seek advice and information from the HSA.  Ensure all employees have access to the Anti-Bullying policy.

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What if I have no policy in place? 

Guidance can be obtained from the HSA re compilation of Anti-Bullying policies in line with the Code of Practice.  Also further information is available from the HSA website at www.hsa.ie

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What Publications are available?

Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work 2021

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How can I encourage and promote dignity in the workplace?

The Anti-Bullying Policy is management’s commitment to preventing bullying behaviour in the workplace.  It also outlines the procedures to be followed if and when bullying issues arise. You can also display Dignity at Work Charters (available from the HSA) to promote awareness of the ethos of the organisation.

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What if after an investigation at organisational level no evidence of bullying is found?

The allegation having been unfounded does not by itself mean, that it was made maliciously, so there should be no retribution to the complainant, if made in good faith.  However, there should be written confirmation given to both parties that the accused, always innocent until and if proved otherwise, remains innocent of the accusation.  Again counselling or a ‘problem solving’ or ‘communication skills’ session may be considered or offered in this instance.

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