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Why Workplace Bullying Is a Serious Problem: Part Two

TASA Expert, Lawrence J. Fennelly CPOI, CSSM and Marianna Perry CPP, CPOI
Workplace violence has harmful effects on the safety, health, and well-being of employees.

Workplace violence has harmful effects on the safety, health, and well-being of employees.

Photographee.eu via Shutterstock

The European Foundation report considered the diversity of definitions of harassment in the workplace and the cultural factors surrounding the issue and stated the variety of behaviors covering “violence at work” is so large it is difficult to both define and describe the phenomenon. The first effort at understanding came with the definition:

Incidents where persons are abused, threatened, or assaulted in circumstances related to their work, involved an explicit or implied challenge to their safety, well-being, and health.

The report went on to examine various definitions of physical and psychological violence, which included the following:

Violence can be defined as a form of negative behaviors or action in the relations between two or more people, characterized by aggressiveness, sometimes repeated, sometimes unexpected, which has harmful effects on the safety, health, and well-being of employees at their place of work.
Aggressiveness may take the form of body language indicating intimidation, contempt or disdain, or of actual physical or verbal violence.
Violence manifests itself in many ways, ranging from physical aggression to verbal insults, bullying, mobbing and sexual harassment, discrimination on grounds of race, disability, sex or, in any event, difference and may be inflicted by persons both outside and inside the working environment.
It is important to bear in mind that physical violence can have consequences that are not only physical but also psychological which can be immediate or delayed.

Bullying behavior can be repeated and/or unexpected, but it does not have to be either. Although a single incident would suffice, psychological violence often consists of repeated, unwelcome, unreciprocated and imposed actions, which may have a devastating effect on the victim. The report blurred any distinction between mobbing, primarily viewed as collective harassment, and bullying, primarily seen as individual harassment, and conceptual assimilation of the two terms occurred. The report also commented that traditional areas of health and safety might also include dignity at work, human rights, and discrimination.

The group identified a best practice model for response to a bullying allegation, comprised of three elements—prevention, intervention, resolution—in two phases

  1. at the workplace level,
  2. at an adjudication level.

Model to Deal with Workplace Bullying

The model consists of a series of progressively more formal stages within these phases:

  • the allegation of bullying is made by an employee or agent
  • the employer uses internal procedures to determine the validity and gravity of the allegation
  • where the matter is suitable for internal disposal the employer offers mediation by an independent and impartial person
  • the complainant and/or alleged perpetrator are not obligated to accept mediation
  • if the mediation is not conducted, the matter will proceed to a formal internal investigation under the company’s normal dispute resolution procedures
  • if mediation is conducted and any recommended actions are acceptable to the parties, then implementation and review will occur within a period of months and, if effective, the matter is resolved
  • if the recommended actions are not agreed or implementation was unsuccessful, the case proceeds to formal, internal investigation under the company’s normal dispute resolution procedures
  • findings of the formal internal investigation will be documented and implemented, where possible, and, if successful, the case is closed
  • should the internal procedures be unsuccessful the matter is referred to the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) along with all agreed internal records
  • if the LRC determines further efforts should be made at the local level it will suggest this, or it will determine an appropriate course of action which may include mediation facilitated by an Officer of the LRC or investigation and recommendation by a Rights Commissioner
  • the LRC mediator will seek to achieve consensus among the parties with a view to restoring harmony in the workplace
  • if the LRC mediation is unsuccessful the matter will be referred to a Rights Commissioner for investigation and recommendation
  • the Rights Commissioner will investigate and produce recommendations
  • if the recommendations are accepted by the parties they will be referred to the employer for implementation
  • if the recommendations are not acceptable, the case is referred to the Employment Appeals Tribunal/Labour Court for a determination.

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Read part three of this article