Dignity & Respect in the Workplace

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 15 March 2023
Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite
Issues covered: Dignity & Respect in the Workplace; Bullying & Harassment

Bullying & Harassment is an area that can cause concern for even the most experienced of management teams.

It is important that each workplace has a Dignity & Respect Policy.

The purpose of a Dignity & Respect at Work Policy is to create a working environment that is free from Bullying & Harassment. The policy should be designed to treat all employees in a consistent manner to provide an environment free from Bullying & Harassment, including Sexual Harassment.

The obligation of the Employment Equality Act requires employers to act in a preventative and remedial way; the legislation surrounding Dignity & Respect at work is derived from the Employment Equality Act 1998 (Code of Practice) (Harassment) Order 2012.

Whilst it is not always possible for employers to control the statements or comments that might be made by individual employees in the workplace, the action that the employer takes in response to an allegation of Harassment or Discriminatory Behaviour is crucial.

An Organisation is vicariously liable if bullying or harassment occurs in the workplace. Two recent awards under Dignity & Respect at work:

  • An employee was awarded €20,000 when the Adjudication Officer found that the Company had “failed to put appropriate measures in place to stop this harassment and sexual harassment from occurring or to reverse its effects”.
  • An employee was awarded €25,000 where an Adjudication Officer found that the Company “is vicariously liable for the perpetrator’s actions as it did not take reasonable practicable steps to prevent these actions”.

The first step in drafting a Dignity & Respect at Work Policy is to ensure that both Bullying & Harassment are clearly defined. The policy should provide for prompt, fair, confidential and effect redress for Individuals who are subjected to Bullying & Harassment.

The scope of the policy should outline who the policy applies to and in what scenarios. The policy applies to employees both in the workplace and also at work associated events such as meetings, company outings, i.e., Christmas Parties, regardless if they are on the Company premises or at an offsite location. The policy should 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 is both an informal and formal procedure to deal with the issue of Bullying/Harassment at work. Any investigation should be completed as quickly as possible. Any employee who makes a complaint of Bullying or Harassment should have the option of which procedure they wish to follow. A contact person should be put in place, in order for employees to have someone to discuss their options with in a confidential manner. 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. As a general rule reasonable attempts should be made to address an allegation of Bullying/Harassment as informally as possible by means of an agreed informal procedure.

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.  This could involve instructing an employee who believes he or she is being Bullied/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 within the Organisation. The contact person should listen patiently, be supportive and discuss the various options open to the employee concerned.

 A Complainant can choose to by-pass the informal procedure to a more formal approach. If an informal approach is inappropriate, or if after the informal stage, the Bullying/Harassment persists, the formal procedure should then 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.

There can be some variations to the formal procedure from Company to Company, however all procedures need to ensure that the following principles are adhered to:

  • The Complainant should make a formal complaint, in writing.
  • 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 Complainant should be subject to an initial examination by a designated manager or senior person within the Organisation, who can be considered impartial, with a view to determining the most 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 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).

This procedure must be open and transparent and must be in line with the rules of natural justice.

A recent a case in which an employee was referred to as ‘Chico’ by the General Manager for the duration of a shift during the Christmas Period: The Complainant told a Workplace Relations Commission hearing he was working at a busy function on his second day on the job, and was bringing dockets to the General Manager, and this is where he began to call the employee ‘Chico’ even though he was wearing a name badge with his name on it. The complainant stated that this made him very uncomfortable, and he felt that he had been discriminated against due to his nationality. When the complainant complained to the agency which placed him at the hotel, when he arrived to work the next day, he was sent home. The WRC found there was no dispute that the term ‘Chico’ was offensive. On the balance of probabilities, it was found that the General Manager would not have used this term when referring to an employee of Irish origin. The Complainant was awarded €12,500 due to an afront to his Dignity & Respect within the workplace.

This case highlights the importance of going through fair procedures, and ensuring all staff are fully trained in relation to Dignity & Respect Policies and Procedures.

Legal Island Training Resources for Your Staff

Workplace Bullying | eLearning Course

Are you responsible for overseeing the implementation of training for all employees on the new Bullying Code of Practice in your organisation?

Legal Island has created a 45-minute eLearning course in partnership with Ogier Leman LLP, specifically for all employees in Ireland. The provision of this training for your staff will enable your organisation to act in compliance with the Code and help to raise awareness of bullying and harassment in the workplace and explain what to do if employees are concerned.

Click here to view this course

This article is correct at 15/03/2023

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite

The main content of this article was provided by Caroline Reidy. Contact telephone number is +353 66 710 2887 / +353 86 775 2064 or email info@thehrsuite.com

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