Why your Dignity and Respect at Work policy is so important
From an employer’s perspective, it’s important to remember that your employees enjoy a right to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace.
Your obligations as an employer are set out in the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015. In short, Irish employment equality law requires you to ensure that your workplace is free from harassment and sexual harassment.
You can go a long way towards removing the risk of harassment claims by developing a strong Dignity and Respect at Work policy.
As well as complying with the law, ensuring your workplace is harassment free is vital to promote a respectful work culture where people feel comfortable to complete their duties.
What is Dignity and Respect at work?
The aim of dignity and respect at work principles is to provide employees with an environment that’s free from bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment.
At this point, it’s important to note that bullying and harassment differ.
Bullying is repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, by one or more individuals, which undermines a person’s dignity at work.
Harassment is unwanted conduct that could create a hostile, intimidating, or offensive environment.
If harassment or bullying is linked to one of the nine grounds of discrimination under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015, employees may seek to take a claim under the employment equality legislation. The nine protected characteristics are:
- Civil status
- Family status
- Membership of the travelling community
- Sexual orientation
Every employee has the right to dignity at work regardless of profession, sector or status of employment. Not only are employees entitled to the right to dignity at work, but employers are under a duty of care to ensure that this right is upheld.
Employer obligation – the duty of care
As an employer, you may be held vicariously liable for any harm suffered by staff who are the victims of bullying or harassment in your workplace. That means you can be held responsible for the discriminatory behaviour of your employees.
The risk of vicarious liability underlines the importance of having a Dignity and Respect at Work policy in place. Not only should the policy clearly set out the expected standards of behaviour, you must also ensure it is effectively communicated to staff and that any relevant training is provided. Simply pointing to the policy document will not be a defence if your employees have not at least acknowledged that they have read and understood the terms of the policy.
If you fail to deal with instances of bullying and harassment, an employee can make a claim under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 (for claims linked to the nine protected characteristics) and/or the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.
The maximum award for claims under the Employment Equality Acts is two years’ salary and awards for claims under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act are uncapped.
Your Dignity and Respect at Work policy
Having covered what dignity and respect at work is and your obligations as an employer, let’s discuss your Dignity and Respect at Work policy.
The first step when putting together an effective policy is to define what bullying and harassment in the workplace mean. They are separate issues that need to be distinguished in your policy document. Your policy should set out who it applies to (employees, contractors, clients) and outline some scenarios where the procedures within it might be needed.
The next step is to outline what procedure will be followed when handling instances of bullying and harassment. It should indicate the informal and the formal route and explain the steps of both.
Your policy should also clarify how an employee can appeal the outcome of a formal process. The appeal should take place within a specified timeframe and be heard by someone other than the person who made the initial decision.
Codes of Practice
When drafting a Dignity and Respect at Work policy, it’s a good idea to incorporate the principles and procedures set out in any relevant Codes of Practice.
Employer obligations concerning prevention of bullying are now underpinned by the 2021 Code of Practice for employers and employees on the prevention and resolution of bullying at work (S.I. No 674/2020).
In addition, the IHREC has developed the Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work which gives practical guidance to employers, organisations, trade unions and employees on preventing employment-related sexual harassment and harassment and dealing with incidences that may arise.
Prevention is better than cure
Failing to incorporate a Dignity and Respect at Work policy into your HR planning can have a detrimental impact on your organisation. You won’t be in a position to establish that your business took all measures necessary to prevent bullying and harassment. This, in turn, exposes your business to the risk of being held vicariously liable for employee misbehaviour.
Furthermore, if an employee doesn’t have access to a Dignity and Respect at Work policy, they won’t know how to raise their concerns. This will leave staff with no option but to seek assistance from the Workplace Relations Commission where any shortcomings in your policies and procedures may lead to expensive awards of compensation.
Would you like to arrange a Dignity and Respect in the Workplace training session?
Providing dignity and respect training to your staff is one of the best ways to protect your business against the risk of harassment claims.
Graphite HRM has over a decade of experience helping employers, business owners, and HR personnel to develop a respectful workplace.
To arrange Dignity and Respect in the Workplace training for your business, speak to one of our HR consultants on 01 886 0350 now or request a callback here.