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F. FAQs

A major concern of every organisation is the topic of Bullying and Harassment. Our team of experts are constantly dealing with questions around this topic. Some of the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) are as follows:

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What Acts deal with harassment in the workplace?

The Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2012 specifically deal with harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace. Harassment and sexual harassment are defined and prohibited in relation to nine areas of potential discrimination, namely: gender, age, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or membership of the traveller community. The Acts define sexual harassment as:

  • acts of physical intimacy;
  • requests for sexual favours;
  • words or gestures;
  • production, display or circulation of written words or pictures; which are unwelcome to a person and which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.
How does the Health and Safety Act apply to Bullying and Harassment?

The Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, requires employers to protect the welfare of Employees. The welfare of Employees is not protected if they are harassed or bullied at work.

Section 8(1) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, states that: ‘Every employer must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of all his employees.’

Section 8(2) states that: the employer’s duty extends, in particular, to the following:

  • Managing and conducting work activities in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her Employees;
  • Managing and conducting work activities in such a way as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health or welfare at work of his or her Employees at risk.

Therefore, there is an obligation on every Employer to put in place a prevention and resolution policy to ensure that the health and well-being of Employees within the workplace is protected. An Employer who allows bullying to take place could be regarded as not doing what is reasonably practicable to protect the health, safety and well-being of Employees.

The Health and Safety Authority are the State Agency with responsibility for the area of workplace bullying. Workplace 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. 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.’ This definition is also used in the Code of Practice detailing Procedures for Addressing Bullying in the Workplace under the Industrial Relations Act 1990.

What is 'Constructive Dismissal' and how does it apply to Bullying and Harassment?

Under Unfair Dismissal Acts 1977 to 2011 where Employees suffer continual and unchecked bullying, a claim for constructive dismissal can be taken under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2011. Employees must prove that the alleged bullying took place and that it was of such a frequent or upsetting nature that they felt they had no other option but to leave the employment.

The Unfair Dismissal Acts 1977 to 2011 allows Employees to take a case for alleged constructive dismissal as a result of the unreasonable treatment to which they allege they have been subjected whilst at work. Constructive dismissal is invoked where employees are not actually dismissed but are put into a situation where they feel that they have been left with no other option but to resign. The termination must be in response to the employer’s conduct- for instance, if an employee is bullied by other employees, this will not give rise to constructive dismissal unless the employer condoned the behaviour or, having been informed of it, failed to take reasonable steps to prevent its recurrence.

In cases of constructive dismissal the onus of proof is on the employee to prove a constructive dismissal. This involves proving that the bond of mutual trust and confidence between the employee and employer has been broken by the employer. Constructive dismissal can also occur where the employer has acted unreasonably. 

However, where there is a grievance procedure, this procedure should be followed by employees when they consider there is a breach of contract by their employer. Where a case is referred under the Unfair Dismissal Acts, it must normally be referred within six months from the date of termination/resignation. However, an extension is permitted for a further six months where there are exceptional circumstances which resulted in a delay in the claim. The maximum compensation to which a claimant is entitled under this legislation is two years remuneration.

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