Bullying and Harassment is an area that can cause concern for even the most experienced people managers. Following her recent interview on Newstalk, Caroline McEnery, Managing Director of The HR Suite, was inundated with queries in relation to this often delicate and difficult topic. The purpose of a Dignity & Respect at Work Policy is to create a working environment that is free from bullying and harassment. The Labour Relations Commission Code of Practice on addressing bullying in the workplace defines bullying as: "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 reasonably be 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" It may involve single or repeated incidents ranging from extreme forms of intimidating behaviour, such as physical violence, to more subtle forms such as ignoring someone. It can often occur without witnesses. Harassment is defined as "any act of conduct which is unwelcome and offensive, humiliating or intimidating on a discriminatory ground including spoken words, gestures, or the production, display or circulation of written material or pictures" Sexual Harassment is defined as any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating a person's dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person. Many forms of behaviour can constitute sexual harassment.
A single incident may constitute sexual harassment. The first step in drafting a Dignity & Respect at Work policy is to ensure that both bullying and harassment are clearly defined. It is also important to outline the scope of the policy and to address who it applies to and in what scenarios. For example, the policy should apply to employees both in the workplace and at work associated events such as meetings, conferences and office parties, whether on or off the premises. The policy should also apply to harassment not only by fellow employees but also by a customer or other business contacts to which an employee might reasonably expect to come into contact within the course of their employment. There should be an informal and formal procedure to deal with the issue of bullying or harassment at work. Any employee who makes a complaint of bullying or harassment should have the option of which procedure they wish to follow.
Of course, it is often preferable for all concerned that complaints of bullying or harassment are dealt with informally whenever possible, as an informal approach can often resolve matters with minimal time and interruption to normal work. As a general rule therefore, an attempt should be made to address an allegation of bullying or harassment as informally as possible by means of an agreed informal procedure. The objective should be to resolve the difficulty quickly and effectively, with the minimum of conflict and stress for the individuals. Though described as informal, it is still important to note that there should be a predetermined, written procedure for dealing informally with a complaint of bullying of harassment.
This could involve instructing an employee who believes he or she is being bullied or harassed to explain clearly to the alleged perpetrator(s) that the behaviour in question is unacceptable. If the complainant finds it difficult to approach the alleged perpetrator(s) directly, there should be an option to seek help and advice, on a strictly confidential basis, from their Manager or someone in the organisation. The above contact person should listen patiently, be supportive and discuss the various options open to the employee concerned.
A complainant may decide, for whatever reason, and must always have the option, to by-pass the informal procedure.
If an informal approach is inappropriate or if, after the informal stage, the bullying or harassment persists, the formal procedures should be invoked. Again, these need to be predetermined written procedures that employees are made aware of through a Company Handbook or Company Policies and Procedures document.
There can be slight variations to the formal procedure from company to company, but all procedures need to ensure that the following principles are adhered to:
The complainant should make a formal complaint, in writing. The complaint should be confined to precise details of actual incidents of bullying or harassment, for example, state the name of the alleged perpetrator, the nature of the complaint, dates and times, witnesses, and any action that the complainant may already have taken, if any.
The alleged perpetrator(s) should be notified in writing that an allegation of bullying has been made against them. They should be given a copy of the complainant's statement and advised that they shall be afforded a fair opportunity to respond to the allegation(s), within specified time limits.
Both parties must have the right to be accompanied by a representative at all meetings.
The complaint should be subject to an initial examination by a designated manager or senior person in the organisation, who can be considered impartial, with a view to determining an appropriate course of action.
No assumptions should be made by the Company about the guilt or otherwise of the alleged harasser, or about the motivation or intent of the complainant.
An appropriate course of action at this stage, could be exploring a mediated solution or a view that the issue can be resolved informally. Should either of these approaches be deemed inappropriate or inconclusive, a formal investigation of the complaint should take place with a view to determining the facts and the credibility or otherwise of the allegation(s).
Although procedures will vary slightly between organisations, the important thing to remember is to ensure that your company procedure is followed. This procedure must be open and transparent and must be in line with the rules of natural justice.
Confidentiality is also a key factor in ensuring that a complaint of bullying or harassment is dealt with, with as little disruption as possible. It is important to ensure that the person dealing with or investigating a complaint of bullying or harassment is adequately trained and aware of the company's internal procedure. All employees must, by law, be issued a copy of the Company's Dignity & Respect at Work Policy within 28 days of commencing employment.
Best Practice HR management is to issue this immediately on commencement, along with the employee's contract of employment. If you require further information or advice on drafting a Dignity & Respect at Work Policy, or on any current issues, please do not hesitate to contact one of our HR Consultants on 01-901 4335 or on 066-7102887 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org