Dealing with Bullying Harassment and Sexual Harassment

Friday, April 25, 2014

The many grounds for bullying and harassment and its multiple forms make it a complex issue.

Harassment and bullying can range from extremes such as violence, to less obvious forms like ignoring someone.

Whatever the form, it will be unwanted behaviour, which is unwelcome and unpleasant.

Examples of Bullying

  • Unfair delegation of duties and responsibilities
  • Setting impossible deadlines
  • Unnecessary work interference Making it difficult for staff to have access to necessary information
  • Aggression
  • Not giving credit for work contribution
  • Continuously refusing reasonable requests without good reasons
  • Intimidation and threats in general.
  • Verbal or physical threats and intimidation
  • Persistent negative comments
  • Humiliating someone in front of others
  • Unjustified, persistent criticism
  • Offensive or abusive personal remarks
  • Setting impossible work targets or objectives
  • Changing work requirements or targets without informing the individual
  • Constantly changing work targets in order to cause someone to fail
  • Ostracism

Examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Physical contact
  • Posters, graffiti, obscene gestures, flags, bunting and emblems
  • Coercion for sexual favours and pressure to participate in political/religious groups
  • Jokes, offensive language, gossip, slander, sectarian songs and letters
  • Isolation or non co-operation and exclusion from social activities
  • Intrusion by pestering, spying and stalking
  • Display of pornographic material at the workplace including displaying, viewing or sending material from emails or the internet
  • Coercion about membership or non-membership of a trade union

These lists are not exhaustive.

Dealing with a complaint

Once a complaint is received, you must take action. Even if the complainant advises you that they don’t want to take it any further, it is important that you take appropriate action.

In that instant, you encourage the complainant to speak to the alleged perpetrator, to make them aware of their behaviour, the impact it is having and to ask them to stop. Interestingly, if this is done, the bullying often stops.

Of course, many people may not wish to or be able to confront the bully, but nevertheless, it should always be the first action to take. You, the employer, must now seek to make everyone in your employ aware of the nature of bullying and harassment, the example behaviours, the consequences, the procedures for making complaints, the procedures for investigating complaints, etc. and re-issue your policies if necessary.

Dealing with a formal complaint On receipt of a formal complaint (in writing), you appoint a manager and a member of staff from a designated team to investigate the matter. The parties to the complaint are interviewed separately and detailed statements are taken.

In the interests of natural justice, the individual against whom the bullying allegations are made is made aware of the nature of the complaint and is given sufficient opportunity to respond to the allegations made.

 The parties involved have the right to representation at any interviews held during the investigation.

Whilst it is desirable to maintain utmost confidentiality, once an investigation begins, it may be necessary to interview other staff to form an opinion as to whether an incident or incidents of bullying have occurred. If this is so, the importance of confidentiality must be stressed to them.

Any statements taken from witnesses are circulated to the person making the complaint and the alleged harasser for their comments before any conclusion is reached in the investigation.

The investigation should, except in exceptional circumstances, be completed within a number of days of the appointment of the investigating panel.

When the investigation has been completed both parties are given a copy, in writing, of the conclusions reached by the investigating team, and are given an opportunity to comment on the conclusions, before any action is decided upon by management.

In the event that the company decides not to pursue the matter, the complaint is not entered on the staff member's personnel file.

If following a thorough investigation the company can reasonably conclude that bullying has occurred, appropriate action is taken under the disciplinary procedure.

It is important for everyone to know that if a complaint is found to be malicious, then appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, will be imposed.

Also, retaliation of any kind against an employee for complaining or taking part in an investigation concerning bullying or harassment at work is considered a serious disciplinary offence and appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, will be imposed.


Note: The above is a broad outline of how to handle bullying and harassment complaints. An organisations procedure may vary in terms of the level of detail and the precise approach it may take.