S.I. No. 674/2020 - Industrial Relations Act 1990 (Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work) Order 2020 was prepared under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 along with the Workplace Relations Commission under the Industrial Relations Act 1990.

This Code of Practice provides practical guidance for employers on identifying and preventing bullying at work and applies all employments in Ireland irrespective of where work takes place, at home or in the workplace. It recognises employees’ duties to not engage in improper conduct or behaviour that is likely to endanger his or her own safety, health and welfare at work or that of any other person. It also covers cyber or digital means of bullying.

Below we summarise the key elements.

The Code explains the rationale for dealing with bullying at work A feeling of being victimised or targeted negatively impacts performance and productivity at work as well as a person’s mental wellbeing, and it is best to prevent situations where bullying might arise.

Bullying can have serious effects on the person being bullied, an individual who wrongly feels bullied, and those accused of bullying. For an employer, bullying can result in dysfunctional work environments, low morale, lost time and litigation issues.

The Code highlights the need to clearly state that bullying is not acceptable, and that complaints of bullying will be dealt with sensitively. The Code reinforces obligations for employers to have procedures in place, to progress complaints informally where possible, and as appropriate, formally.

The Code separates out bullying and harassment and clarifies that a behaviour can be deemed either bullying or harassment, not both. Harassment/sexual harassment falls under the Employment Equality Acts and is related to any unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct related to any of the discriminatory grounds under the Employment Equality Acts. An employer may have an single policy encompassing procedures for both bullying and harassment.

The definition of bullying in the workplace has not changed:

Workplace bullying is 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 be reasonably regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work. An isolated incident of the behaviour described in this definition may be an affront to dignity at work, but, as a once off incident, is not considered to be bullying.

Bullying involves repeated incidents or a pattern of behaviour that have the effect of intimidating, offending, degrading or humiliating a particular person or group of people. It is offensive behaviours that undermine a person’s esteem and standing in a harmful, sustained way, and a reasonable person would regard as clearly wrong.

Bullying activities involve behavioural patterns, directly or indirectly, spoken and/or written and can include the use of cyber or digital means for the goal of bullying. A bullying pattern is likely to include more than one of the following:

  • Exclusion with negative consequences.
  • Verbal abuse/insults.
  • Being treated less favourably than colleagues in similar roles.
  • Belittling a person’s opinion.
  • Disseminating malicious rumours, gossip or innuendo.
  • Socially excluding or isolating a person within the work sphere.
  • Intrusion - pestering, spying or stalking.
  • Intimidation/aggressive interactions.
  • Excessive monitoring of work.
  • Withholding information necessary for proper performance of a person’s job.
  • Repeatedly manipulating a person’s job content and targets.
  • Blaming a person for things beyond their control.
  • Use of aggressive and obscene language.
  • Other menacing behaviour.
Good job design, adequate and effective training and proper supervision all help ensure a workplace where any conflict or issues around behaviours are dealt with fairly and effectively.

The Code helpfully distinguishes bullying from other inappropriate behaviours or workplace engagement. A once-off incident of bullying behaviour may be an affront to dignity at work but does fall within the definition of bullying.

Behaviours which may upset or unsettle a person are not necessarily bullying. Behaviour considered bullying by one person may be considered routine interaction by another, so the ‘reasonableness’ of behaviours over time must be considered. Disrespectful behaviour, conflicts and disagreements do not, of themselves, make for a bullying pattern.

Specifically the Code clarifies that bullying does not include:

  • Expressing differences of opinion strongly.
  • Offering constructive feedback, guidance, or advice about work-related behaviour which is not welcome.
  • Ordinary performance management.
  • Reasonable corrective action taken by an employer relating to the management and direction of employees (for example managing a worker’s performance, taking reasonable disciplinary actions, or assigning work).
  • Workplace conflict where people disagree or disregard the others’ point of view.

Bullying can involve people in many different situations at work. Factors which can be associated with a risk of bullying at work are:

  • High turnover of staff, high absenteeism and/or poor morale.
  • Poor management of relationships in the workplace.
  • Gender/age/status imbalance.
  • Other factors such as the composition of the workforce, interface with the public, history of tolerance of unacceptable behaviour, lack of/inadequate procedures.
  • Absence of clear reporting structures and clear job/role descriptions.

Every individual in the workplace has a role in promoting a positive workplace free from bullying behaviour.

Each employer is required to:

  • Conduct work activities to prevent any improper conduct or behaviour being a risk an employee’s safety, health or welfare at work and have a Safety Statement in place.

  • Develop a proper workplace anti-bullying policy, in consultation with employees, to ensure a system is in place for dealing with complaints and that disciplinary action may follow where bullying is found to have occurred. (The Code includes a policy template in the Appendix).

Each employee is required to:

  • Create a co-operative relational climate within the workplace by their own behaviour. Employees individually and in groups have a role in promoting positive behaviour to others.

  • Take reasonable care to protect his or her safety, health and welfare and that of others who may be affected by the employee’s acts or omissions, and co-operate with any necessary steps.

  • Not engage in improper conduct or other behaviour that is likely to endanger their own or another’s safety, health and welfare at work or during the course of their employment.

The Code calls out how the culture of an organisation is an important factor in creating and maintaining a positive workplace environment free from bullying, intimidation or on-going negative behaviour. A positive workplace includes good leadership, a culture of involvement and a proper flow of communication, intolerance of inappropriate behaviour, training of staff on acceptable behaviour or conduct, an open and transparent pattern of relating based on mutual respect and dignity for all.

Preventative actions include:

  • Promotion and reinforcement of a positive workplace culture.
  • Effective anti-bullying policies developed, used and promoted regarding improper and proper behaviours.
  • Widespread policy awareness.
  • Appropriate training as required for those managing complaints and for line management.
  • Contact person/appropriate advisory support services available, where possible.
  • Clear roles and goals for all.

A contact person role may be used to act as the first step for anyone enquiring about a possible bullying case and can help to resolve matters early and more effectively. The role is generally a supportive one: to listen, and offer guidance on options in line with company policy, all on a strictly confidential basis. Such individuals should be carefully selected and trained and should not have a role in the investigation of any complaints.

The Code identifies a number of principles and steps for employers to responding to a workplace bullying complaint at the workplace.

Early intervention

Any complaint about, or awareness of, alleged bullying should receive quick, calm and consistent attention. Early intervention offers the best possible potential for a mean a rushed approach.

Mediation

Mediation is an informal voluntary process where an impartial third party enables individuals to work through conflict or disagreement, with a view to improving their relationship. It is a valuable tool at any stage in a procedure, but particularly beneficial at the earliest possible stage.

Informal process

A prompt and informal problem-solving approach offers a collaborative and non-adversarial approach to resolve the matter by agreement without further escalation. An informal discussion is often sufficient to alert the person concerned to the effects of the alleged behaviour and can lead to a greater understanding and an agreement that the behaviour will stop. People need to be confident that they will be listened to, taken seriously and dealt with fairly and effectively and managers have to have the confidence and capacity to engage and respond appropriately.

In smaller organisations, the person heading that organisation, should not try to informally resolve a complaint personally but should refer the matter to a senior manager, or draw on external expertise.

Secondary informal process

If the above is unsuccessful or is deemed inappropriate for the seriousness of the issues, a more protracted, yet still informal system can be put in place.

  • The employer will nominate a separate person who has had appropriate training to deal with that particular case. This is a very important role and pivotal in altering bullying cultures and handling complaints effectively at the informal stage.

  • The complaint may be verbal or written. If verbal, a written note of what is complained of should be taken by the nominated person and a copy given to the complainant.

  • This nominated person (who may be a manager) establishes the facts, the context and then the next course of action in dealing with the matter.

  • If the complaint includes concrete examples of inappropriate behaviour, the person complained against should be presented with the complaint and their response established.

  • Thereafter a method should be agreed to progress the issue to resolution so that both parties can return to a harmonious working environment without bullying being a factor.

  • Steps should be taken to stop any identified bullying behaviour, and monitor the situation. Confidentiality is crucial throughout and the person managing the complaint should keep a nominal record of all stages and. In many situations, with the co-operation of all parties, the matter can rest here.

Formal process

Escalating a complaint to a formal process should only be done when the informal approach has been exhausted and/or following a review of all aspects of the circumstances.

The formal process includes a formal complaint and a formal investigation. The purpose of an investigation is to set up a fact-finding approach and determine the facts and credibility or otherwise of a complaint of alleged bullying. an investigation will make it more difficult to restore normal workplace relations and may not have the desired outcome for the parties concerned. The outcome of an investigation may eventually, separately lead to a disciplinary process being instigated in respect of the person complained of, but the investigation itself will be a fact-finding one with the focus on what occurred or did not occur.

A number of steps are outlined for this process

  1. Formal Complaint
  2. Investigation
  3. Appeals
  4. Management of Malicious Complaints
  5. Conclusion of Formal Process and Follow Up
  6. Communications of Outcomes
    All parties directly involved in the complaint (the complainant(s) and respondent(s)) are entitled to know whether the complaint is upheld in whole or in part or, if it is not upheld, the reason why.
    Specific details of disciplinary action to be taken against any party are confidential and other parties are not entitled as a matter of course to receive this information as part of the outcome.

See Appendix 1 of the Code of Practice on how to prepare an anti-bullying policy

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