Some eight percent of the European workforces suffer from bullying and mobbing in the workplace. This causes European business to lose profit through absenteeism, staff turnover and on a personal level, leads to some three suicides per week in Belgium alone. In Ireland a survey carried out by SIPTU reported that 87 percent of those questioned indicated that they were aware of bullying behaviour taking place in their workplace. Almost 40 percent said that bullying was a regular occurrence in their workplace and young and inexperienced workers were the most vulnerable people to work place bullying.
The introduction of the Equality Acts expands the definition regarding Harassment, Bullying and Sexual Harassment and is forcing employers to take action to stop harassment in the workplace or face the consequences of possible litigation in the future and severe penalties.
The equality laws introduced over the last number of years place employers under obligations to ensure a safe and positive work environment for all employees. What was up to now considered by many as normal behaviour in the workplace should now seriously be re-examined.
All the equality legislation is coming from European Union Directives and has to be implemented into Irish law. The scope of these directives is to stop discrimination on grounds of gender, marital status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability and specifically in Ireland membership of the travelling community.
Harassment is seen as a form of discrimination and Sexual Harassment is seen as a form of gender discrimination. The employer is responsible if the harassment takes place within the scope of the employment. This could mean the following: the harassed person is an employee; the harasser is an employee, the employer, client, customer or business contact. The employer is responsible for taking reasonable action to prevent the harassment from happening when the harassment took place where the employee is employed or it is related to the workplace.
The effects of harassment should be studied as well. If employees are treated differently than is the norm by other employees, for instance nobody talks to them, all avoid this person, then this could amount to discrimination and seen as harassment. Once an employer has been notified regarding this behaviour then the employer should take action to solve the problem. Taking no action exposes the employer to serious risks of employee litigation.
The defence for employers against all these developments is to take harassment and bullying seriously and develop a positive culture in your workplace. The following actions should be taken: –
- Develop policies stopping discrimination and harassment in the workplace
- Develop a company code of practice regarding discrimination and harassment
- Train key staff in handling discrimination and spotting harassment
- Take reasonable steps when harassment occurs to stop it happening again
The most important thing an employer should do is to take harassment seriously and prevent it from happening.
There are also huge benefits for a company from this legislation. Companies can gain through more contented workforce, a better work climate, lower absenteeism and lower staff turnover. All these will contribute to the bottom line of a company.