One of my employees says she is being bullied by her manager. I understand that the company dignity and respect policy should be followed and I want to ensure the process is undertaken correctly. How should I proceed?
The purpose of such a policy is to ensure a working environment free from bullying and harassment. It should apply both at work and at work-related events such as meetings, conferences and office parties, whether on or off the premises. The policy should also apply to customers or other business contacts.
Bullying is a sensitive area and can be daunting and sometimes difficult to handle. You should listen patiently, be supportive and discuss the options open to the employee. Assure her the policy is in place for her protection and the company takes such allegations very seriously. It is important that you remain impartial, because at this stage there is only an allegation, and both parties are entitled to a fair hearing.
The policy should have informal and formal procedures to deal with such issues. Any employee who complains about bullying or harassment should have the option of which procedure they wish to follow. In this case your first step is to speak with the employee, to outline both procedures.
It is often preferable for all concerned that complaints are dealt with informally whenever possible, as an informal approach can often resolve matters quickly and effectively with the minimum of conflict and stress.
Mediation could also be an option under the informal procedure, when a trained mediator arranges a meeting with both parties, if they agree. This option is particularly effective where personality conflicts are the core of the problem.
If an informal approach is inappropriate or if after the informal stage the issue persists, the employee may request that the formal procedure be invoked. There can be slight variations to the formal procedure from company to company, but all procedures need to ensure that:
The employee should make a formal complaint, in writing;
The manager (who is the subject of the complaint here) should be notified in writing that an allegation of bullying has been made against them and what the process involves;
Both parties must have the right to be accompanied by a representative at all meetings;
The complainant should meet the investigator nominated by the company to carry out the investigation into the allegations;
No assumptions should be made by the company about the guilt or otherwise of the manager or the motivation or intent of the employee;
Though procedures will vary slightly between organisations, the important thing is to ensure your company procedure is followed and both parties afforded natural justice and fairness;
This procedure must be open and transparent, with confidentiality a key factor.
The Labour Relations Commission Code of Practice on bullying in the workplace 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. An isolated incident of the behaviour described in this definition may be an affront to dignity at work but, as a one-off incident, is not considered to be bullying”.
Ensuring positive moral and employee relations after the investigation is important, to ensure both parties can work together as the business requires. Open communication and possible mediation at this stage is key in that regard.
We all want to work in an environment that respects the dignity and work of all. Fostering a culture in which unacceptable behaviour is nipped in the bud immediately by all stakeholders is a key ingredient in promoting this culture.
Caroline McEnery is managing director of The HR Suite, which offers Ireland-wide specialist human resources and business solutions; a member of the Low Pay Commission and an adjudicator in the Work Place Relations Commission. She is also the author of The Art of Asking the Right Questions, a team manager’s toolkit of HR-related tips