Bullying and harassment are closely related. However, they do differ and it is important for employers to understand the difference between the two and to investigate formal complaints from employees under the correct procedure.
The Code of Practice on the Prevention of Workplace Bulling made under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 defines 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”
One of the keywords that should be pulled from this definition is ‘repeated’. In order for a complaint to be addressed in line with the bullying prevention procedure, more than a once-off incident must have occurred.
An isolated incident of the behaviour in this definition may be an affront to dignity, but a once-off incident is not considered to be bullying. A once-off incident can be dealt with under the company’s grievance procedure.
Harassment, on the other hand, is governed by Equality legislation and is predicated on the person being a member of one of the nine categories specified within the anti-harassment legislation. The Employment Equality Acts, 1998 to 2015 defines harassment as:
“Any form of unwanted conduct related to any of the discriminatory grounds which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual.”
It is important to note that, unlike bullying, a once-off incident of ‘harassment’ can be dealt with under the harassment procedure.
If you have any questions in relation to bullying and harassment, please contact our expert advice team on 01 886 0350.