Is There a Difference Between Bullying and Harassment?

Last updated: April 27th, 2017

Bullying and harassment are closely related. However, they do differ and it is important for employers to understand the difference between the two and to investigate formal complaints from employees under the correct procedure.

 

The Code of Practice on the Prevention of Workplace Bulling made under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 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”

 

One of the keywords that should be pulled from this definition is ‘repeated’. In order for a complaint to be addressed in line with the bullying prevention procedure, more than a once-off incident must have occurred.

 

An isolated incident of the behaviour in this definition may be an affront to dignity, but a once-off incident is not considered to be bullying. A once-off incident can be dealt with under the company’s grievance procedure.

 

Harassment, on the other hand, is governed by Equality legislation and is predicated on the person being a member of one of the nine categories specified within the anti-harassment legislation. The Employment Equality Acts, 1998 to 2015 defines harassment as:

 

“Any form of unwanted conduct related to any of the discriminatory grounds which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual.”

 

It is important to note that, unlike bullying, a once-off incident of ‘harassment’ can be dealt with under the harassment procedure.

 

If you have any questions in relation to bullying and harassment, please contact our expert advice team on 01 886 0350.

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Nora Cashe

Peninsula

Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

Rhiannon Coyne

Graphite HRM

Rhiannon Coyne is a Senior HR Consultant at Graphite HRM and will be providing an overview of best practice on how to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

With a number of recent updates to employment laws, Rhiannon will take a closer look at employment equality and how it is interlinked to Health & Safety and what employers can learn from recent case laws.

David Begg

Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.