Bullying and Harassment is an area that can cause concern for even the most experienced of people managers. If an employee comes to you to say they feel they are being bullied or harassed, the first step is to refer your employee to your Company Policy on Dignity and Respect at Work or Bullying and Harassment.

The Code of Practice detailing procedures for addressing bullying in the workplace (S.I. No. 17/2002) defines bullying 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”

On the other hand, harassment is defined as

“Any act of conduct which is unwelcome and offensive, humiliating or intimidating on a discriminatory ground including spoken words, gestures, or the production, display or circulation of written material or pictures”.

Any employee who makes a complaint of bullying or harassment should have the option of which route they wish to follow – most policies will outline both an informal and a formal procedure. It is often preferable for all concerned that complaints of bullying or harassment are dealt with informally whenever possible, as an informal approach can often resolve matters if the matter hasn’t escalated. As a general rule therefore, an attempt should be made to address an allegation of bullying/harassment as informally as possible by means of an agreed informal procedure.

Though described as informal, it is still important to note that there should be a predetermined, written procedure for dealing informally with a complaint of bullying or harassment. This could involve instructing an employee who believes he or she is being bullied/harassed to explain clearly to the alleged perpetrator(s) that the behaviour in question is unacceptable. If the Complainant finds it difficult to approach the alleged perpetrator(s) directly, there should be an option to seek help and advice, on a strictly confidential basis, from their Manager or someone in the organisation.

A complainant may decide, and must always have the option, to by-pass the informal procedure. If an informal approach is inappropriate or if, after the informal stage, the bullying/harassment persists, the formal procedures should be invoked. Again, this procedure needs to be predetermined written procedure that employees are made aware of through a Company Handbook at induction. Any investigation should be completed as quickly as possible.

There can be slight variations to the formal procedure from company to company, but all procedures need to ensure that the rules of natural justice are adhered to.

If you are a Company and require further information or advice, please do not hesitate to contact our office on (066)7102887.