Tips To Prevent Bullying In The Workplace
Bullying or harassment in the workplace is unfortunately not at all uncommon, and employers must be aware of how to tackle the problem in order to comply with their duty of care towards employees. An employer has a legal obligation to protect employees in the workplace. The absence of a policy in place may expose an employer to a successful claim even where the employer had no knowledge of the bullying/harassment alleged.
Whilst it isn’t possible for an employee to bring a claim directly to the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) or Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) on the grounds of bullying, it is possible to take a claim to the Equality Tribunal for harassment linked to one of the nine grounds for discrimination. Bullying for reasons other than the nine grounds of discrimination is a health and safety issue. Bullying is not always a visible attack on someone and can be the prevention of another employee’s promotion by blocking their progress, or setting them up to fail by stipulating too high targets.
Employers may find it wise to implement an anti-bullying policy. Such a policy should give a clear and unambiguous message to all employees that certain types of behaviour will not be tolerated in your workplace. Examples of prohibited behaviour should be given and employees should be made aware that, should these actions be undertaken, they will be dealt with via the company’s disciplinary procedure. The policy should be prominently displayed, or even given to all new employees, as part of an induction programme.
Senior managers and others with line management responsibilities should receive training in the major issues of bullying. After the training, they should be able to recognise behaviour that constitutes bullying so that they are prepared to identify occurrences amongst employees. They should also be familiar with the effect that bullying can have on the workplace and an individual so, where the manager does not see the bullying itself, they will be able to see who may be being targeted. This, in particular, is significant because victims of bullying may not always feel comfortable with ‘telling on’ their perpetrators.
If instances of bullying are brought to your attention, you should ensure that you take the complaint seriously and investigate it promptly, recording your findings. This can usually be done with your organisation’s grievance and disciplinary procedure. The procedures should be implemented fairly and consistently. Consistency is key to these procedures as this will strengthen your employees’ trust in the procedure to resolve their problem.
Employers should be sympathetic to employees whilst investigating an instance of alleged bullying. Be sure to make the employee who is alleging bullying aware that you will act confidentially and sensitively and then make sure you follow this through. Not doing this will undermine the employee and make them fear reprisals, reducing confidence in reporting any further occurrences of bullying they may encounter. It is equally important that managers keep an open mind on all allegations until all the facts and evidence has been considered.
Finally, it is important to set a consistent standard of punishment to employees who bully others so that everyone realises just what their ‘comeuppance’ will be. Look back at past disciplinary actions against employees who have been found to bully others and apply those actions to similar circumstances. Implementing a hard line when it comes to bullying will support your zero tolerance stance, and similar treatment across the board will instill confidence in your employees that bullying is treated formally by your organisation.