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New code of practice on bullying at work

A new Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work came into effect by way of Statutory Instrument on 23 December’ 20. The Code was prepared by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). The aim of this process was to create a single joint-code, encompassing the remit and responsibilities of both bodies under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and the Industrial Relations Act 1990.

The Code replaces the HSA’s 2007 code of practice and the Labour Relations Commission’s (now the WRC) 2002 code of practice in respect of bullying at work.

The Code applies to all employment relationships whether or not employees are in the workplace or at home.

There is no change to the definition of bullying that has been in use since 2001. The new Code reiterates that behaviour can be either bullying or harassment. It can not be both, as they are two legally separate concepts.

What is included in the new Code on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work?

The Code outlines the steps an employer should take in order to prevent bullying at work. These include completing risk assessments in relation to bullying at work and identifying preventative responses.

The new code has introduced a strong emphasis on the importance of creating a positive organisational culture. The aim is to maintain a workplace free from bullying.

The Code also highlights the key benefits of mediation at an early stage in matters of workplace bullying.

The two steps to an informal approach to dealing with bullying at work:

The new Code identifies the benefit of using and informal approach to complaints of bullying. It breaks the informal process into two distinct steps.

Firstly, an “initial informal process” should be undertaken whereby an employee who feels they are being bullied, raises the issue directly with the respondent, if the employee is comfortable doing so.  Secondly, should the above step fail or where it is deemed inappropriate, the Code suggests a “secondary informal process”. This involves appointing an independent person within the employer to deal with the complaint.

Once a complaint is resolved, the Code recommends that both parties should be given relevant support and periodical reviews if reasonable.  Employers are also encouraged to consider whether other support services should be offered.

The formal approach to dealing with bullying at work:

A formal process should only be applied after all informal avenues have been exhausted.  The Code notes that a formal process is a “significant step” and “all parties should be aware of the possible consequences”.

Malicious complaint of bullying at work:

The new Code also emphasises the seriousness of a malicious complaint. This is a complaint which is made either “knowingly or without regard to whether it is true or not”.  Malicious complaints may have serious implications for a complainant and an alleged respondent.

Is a failure to comply with the Code of on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work an offence?

A failure to observe or comply with the Code is not an offence.  However employers should be aware that the Code can be used in evidence before the WRC, the Labour Court and the criminal courts (in proceedings under the 2005 Act) to show compliance or non-compliance with the Code.

Employers should take steps now to review their existing policies and procedures in order to ensure they meet the standards established by the Code.