What is Bullying?

Bullying in the workplace is governed by the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005While there is no statutory definition of bullying, a widely used and accepted definition is contained in the Health & Safety Authority (HSA) Code of Practice for Employer and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work (2007).

It defines bullying as follows:-

Workplace bullying is repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment, which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work. 

Examples of Bullying 

One or more of the following examples of behaviour carried out more than once in the workplace constitute bullying:-

  • Exclusion with negative consequences
  • Verbal abuse/insults
  • Physical abuse
  • Being treated less favourably than colleagues
  • Intrusion (pestering, spying or stalking)
  • Menacing behaviour
  • Intimidation
  • Aggression
  • Undermining behaviour
  • Humiliation
  • Withholding work-related information
  • Repeatedly manipulating a person’s job content and targets
  • Giving blame for things beyond the person’s control

Note – This non-exhaustive list is taken from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) Code of Practice (2007), paragraph 3.1.

Some other important points to note:

  • The HSA Act 2005 covers bullying at work by the employer, by employees and also by non-employees such as clients, customers, sub-contractors, business contacts and so on
  • Place of work as defined by the Act also extends to other venues such as work related conferences, training, social events etc.
  • An isolated incident of the behaviour in this definition may be an affront to dignity at work but is not considered to be bullying
  • Bullying is not the result of essential discipline arising from good management of an employee at work

Summary of Legal Tests

For a finding of bullying to be upheld, the investigator(s) must be satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that:-

a)    the complainant is an employee of the employers and that the conduct of the person complained of occurred in the employee’s workplace or otherwise in the course of his/her employment

b)    The conduct complained of, was by a person who was an employee or employer or someone with whom the employer contractually obliged the employee to come into contact in the employee’s workplace or otherwise in the course of his/her employment; and

c)    The conduct complained of, was;

i.        Inappropriate behaviours; and

ii.        Reasonably regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work

iii.        Repeated (and not an isolated incident of the behaviour complained of)