Bullying In The Workplace And Corporate Responsibility

Author:Mr Kevin Langford and Louise O'Byrne
Profession:Arthur Cox

What is Workplace Bullying

There is no statutory definition of bullying. Bullying in the workplace has been described in various ways. The Health and Safety Authority define bullying as:

"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."

An isolated incident of the behaviour described in this definition may constitute an affront to dignity at work but as a once off incident is not considered to be bullying.

Bullying – As a Health and Safety Issue

Employers general duties are set out in section 8 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (the "Act") impose a statutory duty of care on employers. This statutory duty of care extends to bullying.

Section 8 provides:

"Every employer shall ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees."

Most (if not all) claims for personal injuries provide that the employer in its commission of the wrong:

"failed to provide a safe system of work;

failed to provide a safe place of work;

failed to take appropriate measures to avoid or reduce the risk of injury to the employee; and

breached the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act."

Employees now appear to be characterising claims for damages as "damages for personal injuries, loss, damage and expense sustained by the Plaintiff as a result of the acts of bullying (including corporate bullying), and/or harassment, and/or victimisation and/or intimidation by employees of the employer and in respect of which the employer is vicariously liable."

Personal Injuries/Work Related Stress

Health and Safety Legislation

The relevance of the health and safety legislation to a claim for occupational stress was considered by the High Court in the case of McGrath v Trintech Technologies Limited and Trintech Group Plc.

Mr. McGrath claimed damages for personal injuries which he alleged he suffered as a result of occupational stress. He argued that the defendant employer was in breach of its obligations pursuant to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 and the 1993 Regulations made thereunder. Whilst Laffoy J. ultimately found against the plaintiff on this point, in principle she had no difficulty with the argument that the 1989 Act and the 1993 Regulations covered psychiatric health and psychiatric injuries. She...

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