Case Law of Bullying

O’Byrne v Dunnes Stores ([2003] E.L.R. 297

In this High Court case damages of €27,295 were awarded to an employee where the court found that it must have been in the contemplation of the defendants that the plaintiff would suffer mental distress from the breach of his contract. The breach of contract in that case arose from the plaintiff being forced to move location without any notice or opportunity to make representations. The plaintiff had also been subjected to an incident of bullying about which the court heard independent evidence. The court described the behaviour of the bully as “inexcusably offensive” and “reprehensible”.

The High Court Judge, Smyth J. Found “Mr Byrne … was entitled to be treated with respect. His point of view could be differed from with respect. I have no doubt that an effort was being sought to bully him into a situation of getting out, doing what he was told by diktat and there was no question of any form of discussion, reasons tendered and no reasons apparently tendered until the trial of this action”.

Smyth J. also criticised the employer for having done nothing by way of apology or otherwise for what took place. He concluded that the plaintiff, as an employee of 25 years, was entitled to “no more or no less than a civilised treatment, which he did not receive”. Smyth J. awarded general damages of €27,295 for the distress and stress that appears to have been suffered by the plaintiff over a period of months rather than years and where the plaintiff had returned to work.

Quigley v Complex Tooling and Moulding (unreported, High Court, Lavan J., March 9, 2005)

In this case the plaintiff claimed that he was subjected to a campaign of harassment, bullying, humiliation and victimisation. He gave evidence of having been subjected to excessive scrutiny and unfair and unreasonable treatment by management. The court found that the plaintiff had been a successful worker, that he had an exemplary work record and never missed a day’s work and that the defendant, through their servants or agents, had adopted a particularly unfair approach towards him by singling him out for unacceptable treatment and attempting to force his departure from the work force and that his treatment resulted in him suffering illness and depression.

The plaintiff appeared to be seeking damages for stress and distress suffered by him during a lead up to a termination of his employment. Here, Lavan J. found that the plaintiff in this case was seeking to establish that the conduct of the employer during the employment was such as to amount to a breach of an implied duty to maintain trust and confidence during the employment relationship, and this caused him injury. The court accepted that this claim was separate and distinct from the claim for unfair dismissal.

Lavan J. relied on health and safety legislation and the code of practice in finding that the plaintiff had been subjected to “a campaign of bullying which had repercussions on the mental health of the plaintiff.”

Sweeney v The Board of Management of Ballinteer Community School (2011)(IEHC 131)

Here the plaintiff succeeded in a claim for damages for personal injuries for bullying at work and was awarded damages totalling €80,000.

The plaintiff claimed that she had suffered depression as a result of the failure of her employer to deal with bullying and harassment which she had been subjected to by the school Principal. The plaintiff’s formal internal complaint of bullying was not upheld by an internal investigation. When she returned to work following sick leave, she continued to have issues with the principal, during which time she was certified as suffering from work related stress.

Herbert J. found that this amounted to ‘long and totally uncharacteristic absences from work’, and so, the principal knew, or ought to have known that this ‘rendered the plaintiff very vulnerable to some form of mental illness such as nervous breakdown.’

Ultimately it was held that the plaintiff did suffer from a psychiatric illness in the form of clinical depression. He imposed liability for breach of duty on the plaintiff’s employer as they: ‘owed the plaintiff a direct duty of care, as her employer, both at common law and by virtue of the provisions of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, to take reasonable care to prevent her suffering mental injury in the workplace as a result of being harassed or bullied by other employees if they knew or ought to have known that such was occurring’