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Bullying in the workplace

 Everybody in the workplace has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. There should be no place for bullying or harassment of any kind. However, for those who are victims in this way it can be very difficult to know what to do and who to turn to.

 Definition

 There are two terms to be defined:

 a) Bullying

 This can be categorised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour which is intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the other person. It can be obvious or insidious, but whatever form it takes it is unwarranted and unwelcome to the recipient.

 b) Harassment

 This can be defined as unwanted conduct which affects the dignity of men and women in the workplace. It can relate to age, sex, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or any personal characteristic of the person concerned. Again it can be obvious or insidious; it can be repeated behaviour or a single, isolated incident. However, whatever the situation, it must be seen to be demeaning and unacceptable to the individual concerned.

 Some examples of bullying/harassment 

  1. Spreading malicious rumours about somebody.
  2. Unfair treatment.
  3. Supervision which is overbearing.
  4. Unwelcome sexual advances.
  5. Making threats or comments about job security without foundation.
  6. Constant, unjustified criticism of a competent worker.
  7. Blocking promotion or training opportunities for someone.

 It is commonly assumed that behaviour which is categorised as harassment or bullying is face to face, direct contact and most is, however it is not necessarily so. It can also be found in written form, phone calls and other means.

 The role of the employer

 Employees are owed certain duties by their employer in terms of welfare and the investigation of complaints. The firm in which such behaviour takes place should have bullying and harassment policies and should have measures to protect against unfair dismissal, harassment or victimisation claims. 

  • The firm should create formal bullying and harassment policies for the staff handbook and should try and ensure that all workers are well aware of the expectations of the company.
  • It should ensure that comments and actions in the workplace are within the bounds of acceptable behaviour and that staff are kept informed of any issues which arise in this regard.
  • The staff handbook, if there is one, should include clear and fair disciplinary procedures including confidentiality provisions.

  Any complaints the employer receives which relate to harassment or bullying should be treated seriously and dealt with immediately and all investigations should be objective and independent. Bigger firms may have their own designated complaints officer but all firms, when considering bullying and harassment issues, should determine as fairly as possible whether the actions can be reasonably considered capable of causing offence.