Judith Curtin: Bullying in the workplace
Judith Curtin, partner at O’Flynn Exhams Solicitors LLP, looks at the new Code of Practice on bullying.
The Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work came into effect on 23 December 2020.
This new single joint code of practice on the subject of workplace bullying replaces the 2007 code developed by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and the 2002 code developed by the then Labour Relations Commission (now WRC).
The Code offers practical guidance for employers and employees in terms of identifying and preventing bullying in the workplace arising from their duties under the Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.
In light of the increase in the number of employees currently working remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, employers should be aware that the Code applies to all employments in Ireland, including employees working at a fixed location, at home, and those who are mobile.
The aim of the Code
The Code offers practical guidance to employers on identifying, managing and preventing bullying in the workplace.
It is based on good industrial relations principles and highlights the procedure to be put in place by employers for dealing with complaints of bullying.
The Code also places a strong emphasis on the importance of record keeping in relation to interventions and decisions in compliance with GDPR principles.
Employers’ responsibility to prevent and manage workplace bullying
The Code outlines the role of employers in preventing and managing bullying in the workplace by providing examples of preventative action.
Employers should conduct and manage work activities in such a way that prevents improper conduct and potential bullying patterns occurring.
The Code also states that where complaints come to the attention of the employer, they must react reasonably and each complaint should be assessed, actions should be recorded and a suitable response should be implemented.
A Safety Statement should be prepared by employers under section 20 of the 2005 Act, identifying the risks and hazards to safety, health and welfare at work. The Safety Statement should outline preventative measures to protect safety, health and welfare in the workplace and should be prepared in consultation with the Safety Representative or Committee.
Employers, in consultation with employees, must develop a proper workplace anti-bullying policy to ensure a robust system is implemented for dealing with complaints.
The Code sets out guidance on how to prepare that policy.
Several elements crucial to a positive work environment are listed within the Code and include good leadership, a culture of involvement, proper communication, intolerance of inappropriate behaviour and proper training of staff on acceptable behaviour or conduct.
The Code advises that widespread awareness of effective anti-bullying policies and the appointment of a Contact Person may act as effective preventative measures.
Key considerations for employers
While the majority of employers already have anti-bullying policies in place, in light of the new Code, it would be advisable for employers to review and update their policies.
It should be noted that the Code does not address the related area of workplace harassment or sexual harassment. Separate policies should be implemented to address these issues.
S.I. No. 674 of 2020 Industrial Relations act 1990 (Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevent and Resolution of Bullying at Work) Order 2020 declares that Code of Practice as a code of practice for the purposes of the Industrial Relations Act 1990.
Employers should be aware that the Code is admissible in criminal proceedings under health and safety legislation as well as in proceedings before the Labour Court and the WRC. Failure to comply with the Code is not actionable in itself, but compliance with the Code may provide a strong defence to allegations of workplace bullying.