How to reduce the risk of workplace bullying

Because bullying in the workplace is sometimes difficult to identify, it poses a particularly problematic HR challenge for many organisations.

Workplace bullies often employ subtle tactics to undermine colleagues and the victims of bullying don’t always feel comfortable reporting incidents.

This is why it’s so important to have strong anti-bullying policies and procedures in place.

Statutory duty to prevent workplace bullying

Employers have a responsibility to prevent bullying in the workplace under health & safety legislation.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, imposes a duty on employers to manage work activities in such a way as to prevent any improper conduct that’s likely to put the safety and welfare of employees at risk.

What behaviour constitutes workplace bullying?

In 2017, the Supreme Court confirmed in the case of Ruffley v The Board of Management of St Anne’s School that for conduct to be considered bullying, it must be:

  • repeated,
  • inappropriate, and
  • capable of undermining of the dignity of the employee at work.

One of your employees must therefore suffer a pattern of repeated inappropriate behaviour to successfully make out a workplace bullying claim.

What causes workplace bullying?

There’s a range of factors that cause people to bully colleagues in the workplace. While the personalities of individual employees play a part, aggravating factors in the workplace environment include excessive workloads, role conflict and job insecurity.

Research has also found that the personalities of victims also influence workplace bullying. And contrary to popular belief, the target is rarely an outsider but is typically a capable, committed and hard-working employee.

So, what can you do to prevent bullying in the workplace?

Anti-bullying policy and procedures

Most employers will have a ‘Dignity and Respect at Work Policy’ which will address bullying and harassment/sexual harassment in the workplace.

Creating a standalone anti-bullying policy will be just as effective. Whichever form of policy you choose to put in place, it should be updated as necessary and communicated to employees on a regular basis.

You should, in particular, ensure that your anti-bullying policy includes informal and formal procedures for handling bullying complaints.

The policy should set out the following:

  • Your company’s zero-tolerance stance towards any behaviour that may be considered a violation of a person’s dignity.
  • Behaviours that will constitute bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.
  • Who the policy applies to. Remember that it’s not just employees who are covered by the policy. Visitors, customers and business contacts that attend your place of work should adhere to the policy too.
  • The complaints procedure.
  • The procedure used when investigating a complaint.
  • An informal procedure to be used in the first instance to attempt to resolve a bullying allegation with minimum conflict and stress for the individuals involved.
  • A formal procedure that should be followed if the informal procedure is inappropriate or, if after the informal stage, the bullying persists.
  • Potential outcomes where complaints are upheld.
  • Process where complaints aren’t upheld.

Putting your policy in place isn’t the final step. You must communicate it to your employees and provide training where necessary. A clearly worded and properly communicated anti-bullying policy will ensure that everyone understands the standards of behaviour expected and works towards creating an environment of dignity and respect.

Finally, it is particularly important that all employees who have a role to play in both the informal or formal procedures receive appropriate training to avoid an incorrect application of the relevant procedures.

Need our help?

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

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Nora Cashe

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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.