Ireland has brought in a new code of practice on workplace bullying and, with it, a clear message to employers in Ireland to review current policies and check compliance with the code. The 54 page code came into force on 23 December and was developed jointly by the Health and Safety Authority and the Workplace Relations Commission. It replaces and updates the separate codes of practice previously published by each organisation.
This has long been identified as a problem in the country, and a costly one for businesses. Back in May the Irish Times reported how every year a total of 1.7 million days are lost due to workplace bullying at a cost to the economy of €239 million according to research published in the journal Occupational Medicine. The 2 key points from that study highlighted. First, that simply having an anti-bullying policy in place is not enough in itself – it needs to be implemented fairly and in a timely fashion. Secondly, employers need to be proactive and develop specific interventions. Both those ideas have been carried forward into the code which is reviewed in some detail by Dublin-based lawyer Jason McMenamin in his article for Outlaw. He makes the point it applies to all employments in Ireland, irrespective of whether employees are working in the office or at home. He says the fact it specifically includes homeworking is important. So why is that? I phoned Jason to find out:
Jason McMenamin: “Well, Joe, I think it's important for a number of reasons and I think, particularly in the news, we've seen a lot of information out there about the remote work strategy which Ireland are looking to bring in. I think that's particularly important as the new code focuses on cyber bullying. Bullying can take place anywhere and that's emphasised in the new code so I think employers really need to take a look at their current policies and if they haven't got a policy in place they need to draft a policy and include cyber bullying in that because bullying can take place anywhere, it doesn't matter if employees are working remotely or in the office, that needs to be addressed in their policy and that applies to all employment in Ireland. The code does provide examples of what is bullying, it also provides examples of what may not constitute bullying and that's also interesting, so it's offering constructive feedback, ordinary performance management and expressing differences of opinion. Secondly, as well, what's interesting as well from the code is that it states that bullying can be conducted by those not employed by the business, such as customers and clients and business contacts and those who come into the area, so employers' anti bullying policies should be displayed in the place where such persons might attend. Another interesting part of the new code, and one I suppose employers really need to be aware of, is that while a failure to observe or comply with the code is not in itself an offence, the code does explicitly state that it can be used in evidence before the Workplace Relations Commission, the Labour Court and the criminal courts to show whether the employer has complied, or not complied, with the code. So for those reasons employers should review the existing policies and procedures in order to ensure they meet the standards established by the new code."
Joe Glavina: "Why is this being brought in now, Jason? Is this in response to the pandemic?"
Jason McMenamin: "Well Joe, I think the government has just been implementing a lot of employment updates of late. This was actually suggested in late 2019 so it was well before the Covid 19 pandemic. I think it is part of the government's plan, and as we've seen this week, the remote work strategy, I think it's a plan on giving employees more rights and addressing certain issues that just need to be addressed in employment law in Ireland. We've seen recently that the statutory sick pay has been on the agenda for the government and a public consultation has been issued on that. We've seen the remote work strategy and consultation has been issued on that. So I think the government is just looking at getting in contact with all the different key stakeholders in Ireland, and employees, employers, and looking at their rights and what more they can do for employees. So I think it's part of that. I don't think it's actually fully in relation to the Covid 19 pandemic but that, of course, has accelerated everything. I don't think, Joe, if we thought about this a year ago, I wouldn't say last year, but over a year ago, that we'd all be working from home, you everyone would have laughed and said it's not possible but here we are. So it's about addressing those issues now. Bullying can take place anywhere and that's why, I suppose, that's been addressed in this policy now and that's something to look out for, and I think down the line there'll be more issues addressed and it will just focus on the different areas that we need to look at."
Joe Glavina: "So, to finish Jason, a final word of advice for employers?"
Jason McMenamin: "Joe, I think employers should act reasonably to prevent workplace bullying patterns developing and if a complaint does arise that they accurately assess it as a complaint in accordance with their anti-bullying policy and follow their processes and procedures. That's probably one of the most important things. A lot of the time we see employers, they might have processes in place, but they don't actually follow them. So it's important that they address this, that they have a policy and procedure in place and that they do follow it and, again, that any staff that are responsible in carrying out the process or procedures are fully trained up and understand what they need to do in accordance with the policy."
You can read more about the new code and the steps employers in Ireland are now taking in response to it. Jason's article is available on the Outlaw website along with a link to the code itself.