Dignity at work during the festive season

As the impact of the #metoo movement continues to be felt in the employment context, it is essential for organisations to ensure that they have a dignity at work policy in place. It is particularly important to set boundaries during the Christmas party season which presents a particular challenge for employers. Dignity and respect policies should be updated regularly and communicated to all employees. It is equally important that appropriate training is provided to employees and in particular, managers.

Health & safety obligation

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare Act 2005, employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace. Section 8 of the 2005 Act provides that the employer is required to prevent any ‘improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk’. This duty includes the prevention of any bullying, harassment and/or sexual harassment.

Risks associated with the office party

Over the years, case law confirms time and again that social functions are considered to be an extension of the workplace where matters of dignity are concerned. Both the company’s management and its employees have a responsibility for creating and contributing to the maintenance of a work environment free from bullying and/or harassment and this includes events outside of the workplace that are linked to the workplace and its employees.

What areas should the policy cover?

Your dignity at work policy should set out the following:

  • Your organisation’s commitment to a zero-tolerance policy towards any behaviours that may be considered a violation of a person’s dignity.
  • Who the policy applies to – it should be noted that it is not just the employee who should be covered in this policy.
  • Behaviours that constitute bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.
  • Complaints procedures – informal and formal.
  • Procedure to be followed when examining a complaint.
  • Potential outcome where complaints are upheld.
  • Actions where complaint is not upheld.
  • Zero tolerance towards victimisation of any party who have been named, who have made a complaint or any party participating in the investigation.

Vital to put the policy into action

It should be noted that it is not sufficient for your organisation to merely have a policy document in place. The policy must be seen to be put into action by taking the following actions:

  • Training employees and managers.
  • Effective communication (making reasonable provisions and appropriate accessibility).
  • Addressing dignity at work in the safety statement.
  • Addressing situations not covered in the policy specifically according to statutory framework while ensuring the right to have a place of work where dignity is respected.
  • Periodical reviews of the policy to ensure it is fit for purpose in the particular workplace and remains compliant with legislative changes.

Recent case – vital to translate policies into practice

Earlier this year, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) heard a case involving alleged sexual harassment of a receptionist. The complainant stated that she was sexually harassed by the owner of the business on a number of occasions, one of which included the work Christmas party where he touched her inappropriately and made unwanted advances.

Following this, the complainant discovered inappropriate comments being made about her on a live chat system used by the company. The comments were made under the Managing Director’s name. The complainant was dismissed from her post which she claimed was punishment for rejecting the advances of her boss.

The respondent denied that sexual harassment took place and acknowledged only that the comment was made but denied that it was made by the Managing Director. The employer stated that the complainant was dismissed on the basis of performance issues which arose during her probation period.

The WRC was highly critical of the fact that the employer did not investigate who had made the comments on the live chat system or remove the offensive comments. The WRC described the employer’s handling of the allegation as a ‘blasé attitude to a very serious incident of sexual harassment’.

The WRC stated that it was not convinced that the anti-harassment policy put forward by the employer was even in place. In its ruling, the WRC found that the assertion that the employee was dismissed due to issues surrounding her performance to be false and that the evidence supported the view that the complainant had in fact had her employment terminated for rejecting inappropriate advances from her boss.

The complainant was awarded €46,000, two years’ salary and the maximum possible award available.

This recent case highlights the importance of not only having a dignity at work policy in place, but the requirement to ensure it is followed and that any complaints of sexual harassment, harassment and bullying are taken seriously and victimisation of any kind should not occur.

If you would like further complementary advice on dignity at work from an expert, our advisors are ready to take your call. Call us on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

Book a call with a consultant

Complete the form below and a consultant will call you as soon as possible.

Book a call with a consultant

Complete the form below and a consultant will call you as soon as possible.

Latest Resources

St Patrick’s Day: Have you prepared for absenteeism?

Published: March 20th 2024 Following national celebrations and public holidays like St Patrick’s day, you could find yourself down several staff members. And – as […]

What Employees Are Entitled to a Public Holiday Benefit & How Are Benefits Calculated?

public holiday
Published: March 20th 2024 From Easter Monday to St Patrick’s Day, Ireland gets ten public holidays and, with them, public holiday benefits. But what if […]

What happens when workplace romances go wrong

workplace romances gone wrong
First published: February 14th 2024 Last updated: February 14th 2024 Love makes the world go round, or so they say. But what effect does love […]

Olga Shevchenko

Director/Advocate, Immigration Advice Bureau

Olga Shevchenko specialises in immigration advocacy and consultancy, in particular, employment permit, visas, family reunification, citizenship, etc, for those seeking to visit, reside or invest in Ireland.

Olga provides extensive information, knowledge, and support to her clients, enabling access to positive solutions for people struggling to handle the immigration law.

Minister Neale Richmond

Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

Neale Richmond TD was appointed as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with special responsibility for Employment Affairs and Retail Business and the Department of Social Protection in January 2023.

Much of his work at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is with businesses, workers, their representative bodies and the State Agencies to ensure that the economic recovery and growth extends to all parts of the country. He works closely with the SME sector, including retail, on building resilience and on the transition to the green and digital economies.

Mark Carpenter

Director of Regulatory & Corporate Affairs, Sky

Mark Carpenter is Director of Regulatory & Corporate Affairs at Sky Ireland. In this role he has responsibility for External and Internal Communications, Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs and the company’s ‘Bigger Picture’ (CSR) programme. He also works closely with Sky Group teams on a variety of matters, in particular our partnerships with domestic broadcasters.

Prior to working at Sky, Mark worked as a Policy Officer in Houses of the Oireachtas and as a Management Consultant at Accenture. He has a BA in History from Oxford University and a PhD in Political Science from Trinity College Dublin.

Nora Cashe

Litigation and Compliance Manager, 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

Managing Director, 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

Senior HR Consultant, 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

Chairman, 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.