Bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment claims by employees against employers can be costly affairs.
While there is no express statutory legal obligation on employers to have policies covering bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and the Employment Equality Acts together with the common law create indirect obligations which amount to pretty much the same thing.
In fact, there are three statutory codes of practice covering this area. These include
- the Health and Safety Authority’s code on bullying, “Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work”
- the Equality Authority’s “Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work” and
- the “Code of Practice Detailing Procedures for Addressing Bullying in the Workplace” (“the Industrial Relations Act Code”).
The obligations and responsibilities imposed by these codes of practice along with the employers’ common law duties of care and so forth really make it imperative for employers to have policies in place.
Employers who do not have a workplace policy in place dealing with these issues will have a hard time defending claims made against him as it will be difficult to show that he has discharged his statutory obligations.
Remember that an employer can potentially face civil and criminal proceedings for failure to provide a place of work that is free from bullying.
The presence (or absence) of workplace policies is admissible in evidence in any civil or criminal proceedings when such a dispute comes before a Court or tribunal such as the Labour Court, Employment Appeals Tribunal or Rights Commissioner. Personal injuries cases taken against employers will also be significantly influenced by the presence of policies as will legal proceedings seeking to attribute liability to the employer for the illness of an employee.
Dignity at Work Policy
One of the most efficient ways for employers to attend to the obligations imposed by the three statutory codes of practice above is to have (and implement) a dignity at work policy which would address bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment.
It is important to note that this dignity at work policy needs to be adapted to the particular circumstances of the workplace. For example if there is a safety representative or committee in place he/they will have to be consulted.
It must also be effectively communicated to employees and implemented in the workplace with regular reviews to take cognisance of any changes in legislation or codes of practice.
And it must be brought to the attention of those in the workplace who have responsibility for implementing it and appropriate training should be provided.