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Here's what to do if you're being bullied at work

Everyone is entitled to a bully-free workplace, writes Sinéad Carroll.

BULLYING IS NOT just something that happens on the school playground. Workplace bullying is a very real and common occurrence that is both a legal minefield and incredibly difficult for a person to deal with.

You might be one of those people who suffer a ‘stomach- churning’ feeling when you go to work each day, BUT, are you being bullied?

Legally, bullying is defined 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 reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work”.

What constitutes bullying

An isolated incident, is not bullying.

Bullying is not a personality clash, banter or a once-off flair-up, it is something more systematic. The bullying might be verbal, physical or cyber bullying (through social networking, emails and texts). There is no exhaustive list of what is bullying but some examples include:

  • Social exclusion / isolation
  • Intimidation
  • Aggressive / obscene language
  • Repeated requests of impossible tasks / targets

If you do feel that the above applies to you, and then keep a diary. Write down what happened, who was involved, when it happened (dates/times), where and any witnesses.

I suggest that you find any documents given to you when you started the job and in particular a copy of the bullying and harassment policy that exists (if at all).

If you do not have it, inquire about it from Human Resources. It is really important that you follow your employer’s process. Generally, the first step is to resolve the situation informally.

What steps to take

I suggest you approach the alleged bully and explain that what they are doing is not acceptable. If you find it difficult to approach the person, you can seek the assistance of a line manager, colleague, HR personnel or Trade Union representative.

Sometimes, mediation might be suggested. If the informal route does not resolve it for you, then you may need to move on to the formal stage. Each place of work should have its own policy that you will need to follow, but generally the formal phase will involve making a complaint in writing to a member of management/HR Department.

They will notify the alleged bully in writing that an allegation of bullying has been made against them. That person will then be given a copy of your written statement and afforded an opportunity to respond.

At that stage, an independent person should review your complaint and decide the next step. They will investigate the complaint. This is likely to involve meeting with you and the alleged perpetrator individually to establish the facts. They may also speak with other workers as witnesses. A report will then be completed and sent to management.

Both you and the perpetrator will be invited to comment on the report. What happens next really depends on the report’s conclusions. If your complaint is upheld, your boss will most likely progress against the perpetrator through the disciplinary process. If the complaint if not upheld, then the reality is that you may have to continue as you are, which of course could be very difficult, if not more difficult for you.

If you are not happy with the outcome, you may have a legal remedy. In some cases, people feel that their conditions of employment are so bad that they have no option but to resign. It is important that you exhaust any grievance procedure before doing this and should obtain legal advice before leaving your job.

The legal route

Some people qualify under the Unfair Dismissals legislation and can bring a claim for Constructive Dismissal. You should get advice sooner rather than later because generally you have six months from the last instance of bullying/ date you terminated your employment to bring a claim.

I have seen bullying seriously impact upon a person’s health. It can often cause lack of sleep, depression, weight loss and stomach problems. If you are suffering then it is important to speak with your doctor as soon as possible.

The most important thing is your health. Legally, if you have suffered an injury because of the bullying, you may be able to bring a Personal Injury Claim for compensation. The bottom line is that everyone is entitled to a bully-free workplace and if you feel you are being bullied, I suggest you take the steps above to see if it can be sorted.

SinéadCarroll works at Cantillons Solicitors, 38/39 South Mall in Cork. Sinéad is a partner in the litigation department of Cantillons Solicitors. Sinéad has knowledge and expertise in employment law and has represented clients before the Workplace Relations Commission and the courts. Her areas of expertise also include personal injury claims, consumers’ rights and product liability.You can contact the firm on 021-4275673. 

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