Bullying at Work

This section of the website should inform you of bullying issues and what you can do, there are pages to guide you if you are an employer to manage bullying complaints or if you are an employee and need information on bullying. This page provides a general overview and examples and other pages offer more detailed information.

What is Bullying?

Bullying in the workplace has been described in various ways.  The Health and Safety Authority’s definition is that it 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.

Detailed information is given in the Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work 2021

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Examples of Behaviour that may Constitute Bullying

Examples of behaviour that may constitute bullying are as follows:

  • Purposely undermining someone;
  • Targeting someone for special negative treatment;
  • Manipulation of an individual‘s reputation;
  • Social exclusion or isolation;
  • Intimidation;
  • Aggressive or obscene language;
  • Jokes that are obviously offensive to one individual by spoken word or email;
  • Intrusion by pestering, spying and stalking;
  • Unreasonable assignments to duties which are obviously unfavourable to one individual;
  • Repeated requests with impossible deadline or impossible tasks

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Bullying - a Health and Safety Issue

Bullying is a workplace issue and a human relations issue. Therefore it comes under the authority of various agencies and is on the agenda of many interested parties.  It is a health and safety issue in so far as bullying has been identified as hazardous or dangerous as it can lead to both safety problems and health problems.  It is also an IR issue, a HR issue, often a legal issue and a personal and public health issue. So many agencies and interested parties are stakeholders in this difficult area.

Employers have a Duty of Care to all employees, to ensure they are both mentally and physically safe at work and that their health is not adversely affected by work.  This Duty of Care means employers must behave and react reasonably in relation to such matters.

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The Role of the HSA

The role of the Health and Safety Authority is:

  •  To promote and encourage the prevention of accidents and injury to health,
  • To encourage activities which promote safety, health and welfare,
  • To provide information and advice on these matters,
  • To undertake and publish research relevant to safety and health at work
  • To make provision for enforcement of relevant statutory provisions

Therefore the HSA makes sure that the system of work is not one where bullying is facilitated or tolerated. Where bullying is identified (through a legitimate complaint) employers should have a proper system to deal with bullying complaints, and act reasonably in implementing that system.  The HSA can assess this system and make recommendations, and where required, use powers of enforcement to ensure the system is reasonable and the management of bullying does not represent a risk to the employee’s health and/or safety.

A template for doing this and an outline of proper procedures both informal and formal can be found in our Code of Practice on the Prevention and Management of Workplace Bullying (see link above).

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Rights and responsibilities of Employers and Employees

Employees have both rights and responsibilities. Employees have a duty to their colleagues not to bully them, and have rights if they are accused of bullying, which must also be defended. This is where bullying departs from other hazards at work, as people who are accused have employment rights which mean that they cannot simply be removed if they are harming others, but the issue must be progressed fairly and transparently so that everybody’s rights are simultaneously met.

Where a bullying culture has been identified, (through a number of complaints being received, for instance)  employers must take reasonable measures to prevent incidents of bullying occurring (through awareness raising and training as well as reacting speedily to resolve issues early/progress investigations and/or initiate control measures). When and if they bullying occurs, employers should prevent the risk of injury to the health of employees worsening by providing and implementing support and assistance throughout the process, and reviewing and monitoring the environment afterwards, as far as is reasonable..

Managers and supervisors have a particular responsibility to promote dignity in the workplace for all. They should be alert to the possibility of bullying behaviour and be familiar with the policies and procedures for dealing with allegations of bullying.  Their behaviour may be modelled by others, as it may be considered acceptable. That’s why managers, supervisors and those in authority should be aware of their own behaviour at work and not engage in improper conduct in any form.

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