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What is considered bullying in the workplace?

There is no fixed legal definition of this. It can range from verbal abuse through threats up to assault. There is also cyber bullying through sending threatening or offensive text messages or using social media to humiliate or threaten.

What is considered harassment in the workplace?

In the Protection from Harassment Act 1997   (“PFHA”) there is some attempt at a definition as follows:-

  • A course of conduct which amounts to harassment;
  • Is intended to amount to harassment of another; or
  • Occurs in circumstances where it would be clear to a reasonable person that the conduct would amount to harassment of another;
  • Conduct includes speech;
  • Harassment includes causing another alarm or distress; and
  • Course of conduct must involve conduct on at least two or more occasions.

What should employers do to prevent bullying/harassment?

Employers have a duty to protect the health of their employees whilst at work. Employers should have anti-bullying and harassment policies in place to try and prevent problems. It is important of course that the bullying or harassment is brought to the attention of the employer. Then it is up to the employer to deal with the complaint. It is important that the employee should know that they can make the complaint in confidence and that it will be promptly and effectively dealt with.

The employer must also see that the occupational health of the employee is reviewed following the complaint and that they receive any treatment such as counselling etc. they might need. Also, the employer must carry out a risk assessment and change the employee’s duties if necessary, to see they are not exposed to the risk of continued harassment.

Remedies for harassment

As well as complaining to their employer there are other things an employee can do to try and prevent further harassment and to be compensated for harassment that has already happened.

  1. If a member of a Trade Union, enlist the help of the Trade Union regarding the complaint.
  1. Where appropriate, complain to the Police.
  1. In general terms bullying on its own is not a criminal offence but harassment is if it continues after a non-harassment order has been made under PFHA. Harassment and discrimination often go together at work. In terms of the Equality Act 2010 there is a list of protected characteristics applying to people:
  • Age;
  • Disability;
  • Gender reassignment;
  • Marriage and civil partnership;
  • Pregnancy/Maternity;
  • Race;
  • Religion;
  • Sex;
  • Sexual orientation;

If an employer treats an employee less favourably because of any or all of the protective characteristics this is discrimination. If your employer discriminates against you can take action to prevent this and claim compensation.

Protection from Harassment Act 1997

You can raise a civil action against whoever is harassing you and the court can grant a non-harassment order. If such an order is then broken the harasser is guilty of a criminal offence and can be punished. Also, you can claim compensation from your harasser in terms of Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Interdict as an alternative to an action under Protection from Harassment Act 1997

You can raise a civil action for interdict (injunction).  This could be against both the harasser/s and your employer for causing or permitting the harassment. Penalties for breach of interdict include fines and imprisonment.

Compensation claim

You can claim compensation against your employer in a number of ways:-

  • Under what is known as vicarious liability. This means that even if your employer isn’t personally responsible for the harassment he is responsible for the behaviour of the employee/s who caused the harassment.
  • On the basis your employer is personally responsible for the harassment because of:-
  • Systemic failure – i.e. not having a reasonable or appropriate anti-bullying/harassment policy or failure to enforce that policy; or
  • Failure to respond appropriately to a complaint of harassment once it is brought to the employer’s attention.

How we can help

If you think you may have a claim, and would like some advice and support, please contact us to discuss the matter on 0800 988 8082 or complete our online enquiry form and a member of our team will get back to you right away.


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