Most incidents of bullying are not put on the record. Employees may fear the consequence of reporting a supervisor or manager. Colleagues may be reluctant to come forward as witnesses as they fear the consequences for themselves.
In a recent workplace investigation into a serious incident 15 employees were interviewed; 5 reported being subjected to bullying and abusive behaviour; 5 reported witnessing abusive behaviour in the past 12 months. The investigation uncovered a culture which was characterised by low productivity, lack of co-operation, lack of respect for individuals and frequent abusive behaviour.
The anxiety and stress caused by bullying and abusive behaviour may have significant consequences for your business:
- Low morale
- Damaged working relationships
- Poor productivity
- High absenteeism due to ’work related stress’
- High staff turnover
- Risk of Employment Tribunal claims
Comply with Health & Safety legislation
Employers have legal obligations under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. Managers and senior staff have a responsibility to protect employees and promote a healthy working environment where an individual’s contribution is valued and their dignity is respected.
Employees have a duty to their colleagues not to engage in conduct or behaviour which could be considered offensive by other employees and to co-operate with the policies and procedures to prevent bullying.
What should employers do?
- Publish a ‘Dignity at Work’ Policy to emphasise the commitment to promoting respect for one and other and taking responsibility for your behaviour.
- Monitor complaints – ensure that employees are aware of how to make a complaint
- Investigate incidents – take complaints seriously, carry out an objective investigation and ensure a balanced response to the complaint.
Taking effective disciplinary action
The Unfair Dismissal Act 1977 -2001 has had a massive impact on the protection of employees by clearly defining ‘unfair dismissal’ and providing ready access to Employment Tribunal to have a claim heard.
The Act requires that the employer must give a written procedure to be applied to a dismissal to the employee within 28 days of the date of hire. The Act reversed the normal burden of proof in legal cases by putting the onus on the employer to show that there were ‘substantial grounds’ for the action and that ‘fair procedure’ was applied in the case.
Fair Procedure and natural justice
Employers are generally required to treat employees with consideration and respect in disciplinary situations. The disciplinary procedure should be considered as a tool to improve performance rather than as a means of inflicting punishment.
When drawing up and applying a disciplinary policy keep the principles of fairness in mind:
- Investigate the situation and acquire the facts
- the employee must be presented with the evidence and allowed an opportunity to answer the charge
- the employer must hear the case and form a judgement after having considered all the evidence
- the employee must be provided with the opportunity for representation in any meeting with management
- At any stage employees involved in the disciplinary procedure have the right to appeal a decision
Keep written records
The burden of proof on the employer is very onerous, so it is extremely important to keep accurate written records:
- Notes from all formal meetings
- Written communications between, employee, employer and relevant third parties
- Evidence relied on in the case, investigation report, documents and statements etc
- Record of the appeal (if appropriate)
- Records grievances raised during the disciplinary proceedings
The records should be treated as confidential and held in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2003. The Act gives the employee the right to access all the data held by the employer.
Investigating the case
In serious cases, such as, theft or bullying or abusive behaviour, it may be necessary to carry out an investigation into the circumstances before proceeding to the disciplinary stage. It is important to separate the investigation from the decision to take disciplinary action.
The purpose of the investigation is to establish the facts and it is important to deal with the employee in a fair and open minded way. Although there is no statutory right to be represented it is advisable to allow the employee to be supported by a fellow employee.
Informing the employee
If it is decided that there is a case to answer, the employee should be notified in writing. The notification should contain sufficient information about the allegation to enable the employee to prepare a response to the charge. This should include copies of all written evidence; investigation report, records, statements etc.
The notification should include a reminder of the employee’s right to be represented at the meeting.
Conducting the disciplinary meeting
The employee should receive sufficient notice of the meeting to enable the preparation of the defence. At the meeting the employer should outline the complaint and go through the evidence to support the case.
The employee should be given time to respond and address the allegations that have been made; to ask questions; present alternative evidence; and call witnesses.
If new facts emerge it may be necessary to adjourn the meeting to carry out further investigations.
After the meeting consider whether or not disciplinary action is appropriate and inform the employee in writing.
The question raised in last week’s blog ‘Are wage increases back on the agenda for 2015?’ got a very emphatic reply from SIPTU President, Jack O’Connor. The leader of the country’s biggest Trade Union has announced a major campaign for pay increases of 5.0% across the economy.
Mr O’Connor has also set his sights on establishing a Minimum Living Wage €11.45 per hour and the abolition of the Universal Social Charge.
Even for a Trade Union leader this is a surprising demand at this time. SIPTU, his own trade union, has been involved in many of the deals that have helped establish the current 2.0% benchmark in the private sector. The Haddington Road Agreement is in place in the public sector to 2016 and the signal from the Government and trade unions is that talks will begin in the summer on a ‘pay restoration’ agenda.
Mr O’Connor’s announcement will make it more difficult for SIPTU negotiators to settle for anything less than 5.0%. The majority of employers will see this demand as completely unrealistic; creating a barrier to reaching balanced agreements in the future.
Against the backdrop of low inflation and falling oil prices this demand will be viewed as sabre-rattling; a crude attempt to raise the bar in future wage negotiations.
With unemployment falling below 10.0% there are some signs that the labour market is tightening, which points to a return to a competitive market with increasing job opportunities. There is strong demand for specialist positions in IT, Accounting and Finance and Engineering. It may well be that employers will have to consider pay increases to attract or retain ‘in-demand’ skills but for 2015 this will be the exception rather the rule.