Harassment – I Want To Make A Complaint
What legal obligations does my employer have in relation to the prevention of harassment and sexual harassment in the workpace?
The Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2011 render the harassment and sexual harassment of employees unlawful. Your employer is legally responsible for harassment and sexual harassment suffered by employees in the course of their work. Unless your employer took reasonable and practicable steps to prevent harassment and sexual harassment from occurring and/or recurring and to reverse the effects, your employer is at fault. In addition, The Equality Authority introduced a Code of Practice on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work in 2002 and this also states that employers should act in a preventative and remedial way in relation to harassment and sexual harassment at work.
In short, your employer should have in place, at a minimum, a comprehensive, effective and accessible policy on harassment and sexual harassment. The policy should include a detailed complaints procedure. This policy is often termed a Dignity at Work policy.
In addition your employer should:
- Ensure the effective communication of the policy to all employees and to other business contacts such as customers, suppliers, contractors and so on
- Ensure managers and others in positions of authority understand their particular responsibilities with regard to the prevention of harassment and sexual harassment and in responding to complaints of this nature
- Provide training to employees on issues of harassment and sexual harassment with particular emphasis on managers and others in positions of authority
- Ensure complaints are resolved in an effective and efficient manner
- Monitor all incidents of harassment and sexual harassment and evaluate the effectiveness of the policy and procedures
Do I have any legal obligations relating to the prevention of harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace?
While there are no legal obligations placed on employees, the Equality Authority’s Code of Practice recommends that the Dignity at Work policy should make it clear that employees can contribute to achieving a harassment- and sexual harassment-free workplace by co-operating with management and trade unions in this regard. Every employee has a moral duty to co-operate with his or her employer to achieve a harassment and sexual harassment-free work environment. The Code goes on to state that the Dignity at Work policy should include a statement to the effect that where a complaint of harassment or sexual harassment is upheld, this constitutes misconduct and the disciplinary process should be invoked, which may lead to disciplinary sanctions up to and including dismissal.
I want to make a complaint of harassment/sexual harassment – what should I do?
- Seek help – speak to your manager, your Designated Contact Person, a member of the HR team or any other senior manager you can trust and ask for help. Apart from providing you with initial support, this person can also help you understand if what you are experiencing constitutes harassment or sexual harassment.
- Read your Dignity at Work policy and become familiar with the policy and procedures contained therein. The procedures will suggest a number of routes for resolution, an informal route, mediation or a formal investigation.
- Consider the events objectively.
a. If your complaint relates to harassment, is there evidence that:
i. The behaviour you experienced was unwanted and based on one of discriminatory grounds? Click here to see a list of the nine grounds, and
ii. The behaviour you experienced violated your dignity and created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you?
b. If your complaint relates to sexual harassment, is there evidence that:
- The behaviour you experienced took the form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, and
- The behaviour violated your dignity and created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you?
- If you remain of the opinion that you are being harassed or sexually harassed, follow the procedures outlined in your Dignity at Work policy and seek any advice that you deem appropriate [union, medical, legal, our WorkplaceBullying Team], the costs of which will be at your own expense.
- Being the victim of harassment or sexual harassment can be very stressful for you and your family so seek support from any mechanisms within your organisation, for example, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
- Remember confidentiality is critical. The other party is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
If you need help to understand if what you experienced was harassment or sexual harassment or are finding it difficult to navigate the procedures set out by your employer, WorkplaceBullying can help. Contact us today for affordable, impartial and expert advice.
I want to make a complaint – what are my rights?
All employees have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at work and not to have their safety, health or welfare put at risk through harassment or sexual harassment by the employer, other employees or other non-employees such as clients, customers, sub-contractors, business contacts and so on. If you feel you are being harassed or sexually harassed by someone you encounter through work you will find that the procedures for dealing with such complaints are generally detailed in your company’s Dignity at Work policy. These procedures must comply with the general principles of natural justice and fair procedures which include:
- That your complaint/grievance is fairly examined and processed
- That the details of your complaint are put to the employee concerned
- That the employee concerned is given the opportunity to respond fully to any such allegations or complaints
- That you are given the opportunity to avail of the right to be represented during the procedure
- That you have the right to a fair and impartial determination of the issues concerned, taking into account any representations made by, or on behalf of, you, and any other relevant or appropriate evidence, factors or circumstances.
In addition, you have the right
- Not to be victimised for making a complaint of bullying in good faith. However, if the complaint is found to be vexatious or malicious your employer can invoke the organisation’s disciplinary procedures and associated sanctions
- To be treated with fairness, sensitivity, dignity and respect throughout the process
- To confidentiality – a complaint of harassment or sexual harassment is both serious and sensitive and all parties involved in the complaint and the resolution process are bound by confidentiality (that includes both you and the person against whom the complaint is made, the mediator, investigator(s), HR personnel and so on)
If the matter proceeds to a formal investigation, there are specific guidelines with which the investigation process should comply. These should also be detailed in the procedure set out in your Dignity at Work policy.
If this seems rather daunting, WorkplaceBullying can help you understand your rights and how to proceed with making a complaint. Contact us today for affordable, expert and impartial advice.
What is the informal route?
The informal route is where the you or someone on your behalf (a Designated Contact Person, Manager etc) confronts the person you feel is harassing or sexually harassing you and explains the behaviour that you find offensive and requests him/her to stop that behaviour. This simple route is often the most effective way of countering the problem.
What is mediation?
Mediation is when a neutral third party facilitates a conversation between the parties in dispute and helps them find a resolution in a safe and equitable way. Mediation facilitates the resolution of the issue through communication and negotiation between the parties and promotes voluntary decision-making as a means to a mutually acceptable solution.
Because mediation has a very high success rate and can resolve matters speedily and confidentially without recourse to a formal investigation it should, where possible, be attempted before moving to formal investigation. However, mediation does require the voluntary consent of both parties to engage in the process and must be carried out by a qualified mediator practiced in dealing with bullying at work issues.
All our mediators are fully accredited and we have a 98% success rate in workplace mediations. Click here to find out more on mediation and our mediation services.
Should I opt for mediation instead of a formal investigation to resolve my complaint?
Yes, you should seriously consider mediation. Mediation is a very effective mechanism for resolving workplace conflicts, so much so, that it has been recently elevated to statute with the introduction of the Mediation Bill 2012. Conflicts are usually resolved more rapidly through mediation than a formal investigation. Mediation may not suit all conflict situations; for example, where there is a serious power imbalance between conflicting parties or where one party is not willing to participate in the process, then mediation cannot occur.
Our mediators are fully accredited and have a 98% success rate so don’t hesitate to contact us for help if you would like to try mediation or indeed for advice in choosing the best route for resolution of your complaint. Click here for more on mediation or Contact us.
What is a formal investigation?
An investigator (internal or external) will be appointed who should be impartial, have the appropriate training and experience and should be familiar with your Dignity at Work procedures. The objective of an investigation is to establish whether the complaint falls within the definition of bullying at work and if so, whether or not, on the balance of probabilities, the behaviours complained of occurred. Both you and the person or persons you have complained about and any other relevant witnesses will be interviewed in order for the investigator to ascertain the facts and reach a conclusion. The findings are provided in a written report.
The investigators must follow the procedures set down in your Dignity at Work policy which in turn must comply with the Equality Authority’s Code of Practice and the principles of natural justice and fair procedures.
What can WorkplaceBullying do for people in respect of formal investigations? Our Team of Experts can help you at any and every stage of the investigation process.
Do I need to put my complaint in writing?
If you opt to address the matter informally then it may not be necessary to document your complaint. However, we advise you to put your complaint in writing and be specific with regard to your description of the behaviours complained of, the dates, times and details of witnesses in case the complaint goes further and a written record is required.
WorkplaceBullying offers assistance with putting your complaint in writing. Contact us today.
I want to make a complaint of harassment or sexual harassment but there is no Dignity at Work policy in my organisation – what should I do?
- Approach the most senior person available to you (perhaps you manager, your HR manager or the CEO) about the absence of a policy and seek their help.
- Read the definitions of harassment and sexual harassment and examples provided on this website. You can also read the Equality Authority’s Code of Practice for additional information.
- Consider the events objectively
- If your complaint relates to harassment, ask yourself;
- Was the behaviour you experienced unwanted and based on one of discriminatory grounds, and
- Did the behaviour you experienced violate your dignity and create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you
b. If your complaint relates to sexual harassment, ask yourself;
- Did the behaviour you experienced take the form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, and
- Did the behaviour violate your dignity and create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you
- Avail of any support mechanisms available from the company such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
If your organisation fails to put a policy in place you should also contact the Equality Authority, which has a general remit to promote equality and can give advice.
If you require assistance with how to proceed with your complaint in the absence of a policy, get in touch for expert, impartial and affordable help. Contact us. WorkplaceBullying can assist your organisation to put together a watertight Dignity at Work policy and procedures that are relevant to the industry in which it operates.
I am not satisfied with the outcome of the formal investigation into a harassment complaint I made – what should I do?
Consider carefully why you are not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation and if the procedure for investigation included an appeal stage:
- Refer to your Dignity at Work policy which should outline the procedure for an appeal of the investigation.
- Document clearly the grounds for the appeal. Perhaps some of the evidence presented by you was not considered, or you have evidence that the investigator was not impartial for example.
- Make sure you submit your appeal letter within the timeframe and to the person specified in the policy.
Remember, an appeal does not involve a complete re-hearing of the investigation. It will focus only on the grounds for the appeal as cited in your letter of appeal. The appeal should be heard by a party (internal or external) that has not been involved in any aspect of the initial investigation. If the person is being appointed internally, he/she should at least be at the same level of seniority as the original investigator but preferably more senior. If your company is very small and this is not feasible then the company should appoint an external person to hear the appeal.
Contact a member of the WorkplaceBullying team for further information and assistance with any of the following areas:
- General advice on how to make a complaint
- Assistance with formulating your complaint
- Advice on what to do in the absence of a policy
- Mediation services
- Advice and/or representation with formal investigation
- Appeal of an investigation finding
Making a complaint of harassment or sexual harassment can be difficult and stressful, however, rest assured that you will have the benefits of the WorkplaceBullying teams’ extensive experience and expertise on your side. Remember, we can act as your Advisor and/or Representative at any stage in the process or for the entire process. Contact us.