Over recent years bullying at work has become a growing concern for employees and employers resulting in an increase in claims for constructive dismissal, discrimination and personal injury actions for stress.
By failing to address bullying in the workplace, an employer may well be in breach of duty to provide a safe working environment. Where injury is caused to the employee, stress or other mental injury, an employer may end up losing a valued employee and defending a personal injury claim.
What exactly is bullying?
Essentially it is an attack on someone else’s dignity. It is not only harassment on grounds of sex, race or disability but can be offensive comments, practical jokes, unnecessarily aggressive behaviour, intimidation or even excluding somebody from social occasions.
What may be seen by one individual as an aggressive management style could be perceived by the employee as intimidation but it is a reasonable person’s perception of the conduct (not the harasser’s intentions) which is the starting point for determining whether there is any liability. What at face value seems to be a clash of personalities may in fact be a misuse of authority by managers, and where this is found, such misuse should be treated as a disciplinary matter, listing such in the example of misconduct in a disciplinary procedure. We think we know what we say and how others are likely to receive it. We each have our own ways of communicating through the words we use, the way that we say those words and the physical behaviour – body language – that accompanies them.
The issue is that sometimes the meaning to our communication is different from the way it is received by the other party you could say that each party is on a different wavelength. The effect of making a different meaning from the communication usually just leads to a misunderstanding, which is soon clarified and resolved. There are instances however where this mismatch is more extreme and personal and can lead to a feeling of being bullied or harassed sexually.
The meaning of our communication is not actually what we INTEND to say but the IMPACT it has on the other person.