Do you have an effective workplace harassment policy in place?

Defence Forces representative associations PDFORRA and RACO recently met senior members of the Department of Defence to discuss conducting an independent review into alleged bullying.

A spokesperson for the Department said that Minister for Defence Simon Coveney also has meetings scheduled with the associations in the next fortnight, with Minister Coveney saying that the terms of an independent review into policies and procedures for dealing with bullying, harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault against women in the Defence Forces would be reviewed.

This raises the question: Do you have an effective workplace harassment policy in place?

Harassment at work in Ireland

The law on workplace harassment is found in the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015, Ireland’s anti-discrimination legislation. The Acts define harassment as ‘unwanted conduct’ relating to any of the nine discriminatory grounds that has “purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person”.

The nine characteristics specifically protected under the Employment Equality Acts are:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Civil status
  • Family status
  • Membership of the Traveller community

Harassment of any kind not only impacts individual employees but the workplace environment as a whole. It’s important that you assess the types of workplace harassment that pose risks to your business. Once identified, you need to implement measures to prevent harassment to limit your exposure to vicarious liability for any staff misconduct.

Article: Why your Dignity and Respect at Work policy is so important

Examples of workplace harassment

As mentioned above, it’s important to make yourself familiar with the types of workplace harassment that pose risks to your business. Below are common examples of what qualifies as workplace harassment.

Discriminatory harassment: Against one of the nine characteristics listed above.

Personal harassment: Inappropriate remarks, offensive jokes, humiliation, and intimidation all made directly about the victim.

Physical harassment: Can range from threatening behaviour, destroying property, to physical assault.

Psychological harassment: Affects a victim’s mental wellbeing and can significantly affect their professional and personal life.

Power harassment: Harassment of those at a lower working level.

Online harassment: Such as cyberbullying and online harassment through social media. This can take place through workplace digital platforms.

Retaliation harassment: Harasser seeks revenge and aims to prevent the victim from behaving in such a way again.

Sexual harassment: Unwanted sexual advances, behaviour, and conduct. Forms of sexual harassment in the workplace can include sharing sexual pictures, making sexual comments, and invading someone’s personal space in a sexual way.

Verbal harassment: Including threatening, shouting, insulting, or cursing – both privately and in public.

How to deal with harassment in the workplace

You can choose to handle a harassment complaint formally or informally. In certain circumstances, where it’s clear that gross misconduct has occurred, summary dismissal without investigation may be the direct approach.

When a harassment complaint is reported, speak to the accused individual. The person accused of sexual harassment at work should receive notification of the allegation and have a right to respond. It’s vital that the accused understands the seriousness of the claim and the consequences that could follow.

If the victim raises a formal complaint, you’re required to process a formal procedure to resolve the matter. If you fail to do so, you risk incurring severe consequences like compensation payments as well as reputational damage to your business. When processing a harassment complaint, follow these steps:

  • Inform both parties that a complaint has been reported.
  • Share details on the investigation, including a timeframe. If any meetings are held, both sides are legally allowed to be accompanied by representatives.
  • The investigation should be carried out by an impartial manager who should also provide a written statement of their final decision.
  • Records must be kept of the proceedings. Details can stand as evidence that you took reasonable steps for managing the complaint.
  • See if further measures are needed, e.g., the victim might require further support.

Do not dismiss anyone without proper investigation. If an employment tribunal found you guilty of unfair dismissal, you could face compensation pay-outs and further unnecessary business disruption.

Workplace harassment policy

Every employer should have a workplace harassment policy in place. This policy should define what is unacceptable behaviour at work and include an effective procedure to deal with harassment complaints.

The Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment requires you to “adopt, implement, and monitor a comprehensive, effective and accessible policy on harassment and sexual harassment.”

Having a workplace harassment policy in place doesn’t only protect you. It also assures victims that you’ll fully investigate all claims and that legal proceedings will follow where there’s evidence that harassment has taken place.

Your policy should outline how to stop workplace harassment by including:

  • A clear definition of workplace harassment.
  • An outline of what behaviour is unacceptable.
  • The procedure to be used for dealing with harassment claims.
  • Your zero-tolerance for workplace harassment and other forms of unacceptable behaviour.
  • The investigations and appropriate consequences to follow for any guilty parties.

Article: Is your Anti-Bullying Policy up to date?

Do you have questions about harassment?

For further advice and answers to your harassment questions, speak to an expert now on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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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.