Are you the victim of unwanted harassment in the workplace. What are your options.
Difficult inter-personal relationships can (unfortunately) be a part of everyday life. Most of us get by and work things out in a mutually respectful fashion. However there are times when matters can get out of hand and that mutual respect is lost. What are your options when matters take a turn for the worst and resolution of problems lead to harassment?
The Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 place an obligation on all employers to prevent harassment in the work place. Under this legislation, if you feel you have experienced harassment in the work place, you may bring a claim against your employer to the Work Place Relations Commission (WRC) and your employer may be obliged to pay you compensation if it is proven that you have been harassed.
The Employment Equality Acts define harassment as “unwanted conduct” which is related to any of the following nine discriminatory grounds;
- Civil status.
- Family status, for example, as a parent of a child.
- Sexual orientation.
- Religious belief.
- Membership of the Traveller Community.
The “unwanted conduct” can come in many forms including verbal, written, behavioural or other material to include, social media. The harassment must be based on any of the 9 grounds set out above in relation to conditions of employment.
SI No. 208/2012 – Employment Equality Act, 1998 (Code of Practice) (Harassment) Order 2012 sets out a detailed Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work, which is of course of significant assistance in assisting both employees and employers on how to prevent sexual harassment and harassment at work and how to deal with same in the event that it arises. Your employer should have a Policy and Procedure to deal with and prevent harassment at work. The Policy should clearly set out what is unacceptable behaviour and there should be an effective grievance or complaints procedure in place to deal with harassment. You, as an employee, must be made aware of all of these policies and procedures.
The Code sets out the following list of examples of harassment which is, by the Code’s own definition, illustrative rather than exhaustive;
Verbal harassment – jokes, comments, ridicule or songs.
Written harassment – including faxes, texts messages, emails or notices.
Physical harassment – jostling, shoving or any form of assault.
Intimidation harassment – gestures, posturing or threatening poses.
Visual displays such as posters, emblems or badges.
Excessive monitoring of work.
Isolation or exclusion from social activities.
Unreasonably changing a person’s job content or targets.
You should note that if you bring a claim against your employer for harassment, there is a defence available to your employer to show that he/she took reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from happening or to prevent you from being treated differently at work. You should also note, importantly, that if you do bring a claim under the Acts, that you cannot then be subjected to victimisation at work for having brought that claim in the first instance.
Please also note you have 6 months from the date of the alleged occurrence of harassment or of the most recent occurrence of such harassment to lodge a complaint with the WRC. This time may be extended up to 12 months in certain circumstances.
The following steps should be taken if you feel you are being harassed at work –
- Talk to the person – advise you find the behaviour or conduct etc., unacceptable. If this is too difficult, there may be a designated person at work or a sympathetic colleague who may assist you. Keep a written record of everything.
- If this doesn’t resolve the matter, review your employers policy on harassment which should set out what should happen next in the context of making a formal complaint internally within your workplace; how the complaint will be investigated and who will carry out the investigation. Formally follow this procedure and again keep a written record of everything.
- Failing resolution of the matter through internal procedures within your work place, make a complaint under the Employment Equality Legislation set out above, to the WRC (watching the 6 month time limit) who will investigate the complaint. You can make this complaint using the online complaint form available on www.workplacerelations.ie or alternatively you can contact your Solicitor for assistance in relation to same.*
* In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage of any award or settlement.