New workplace bullying code of practice in force in Ireland

Out-Law News | 18 Jan 2021 | 2:16 pm | 2 min. read

A new code of practice setting out how employers, employees and their representatives should address and resolve bullying in the workplace has come into force in Ireland.

The new 'Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work' (2020 Code) (54-page / 924KB PDF) came into force on 23 December 2020. It was developed by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), and replaces and updates the separate codes of practice previously published by each organisation.

Employment law expert Jason McMenamin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: "Employers should be aware that the new code of practice applies to all employments in Ireland, irrespective of whether their employees work in the office, at home or are mobile. Employers should review their current policies in light of the new code of practice and ensure they are compliant".

"Employers should be mindful of their duties to employees under health and safety legislation which means they must act reasonably to prevent workplace bullying patterns developing and, where there are complaints, must act reasonably, assess the complaint, record their actions in line with data protection laws and put in place a suitable response based on each case arising," he said.

The 2020 Code is designed to provide guidance for employers, and for employees and their representatives, on good practice and procedures for addressing and resolving issues around workplace bullying. It also provides practical guidance to employers on identifying, managing and preventing bullying at work arising from their duties under the 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act (2005 Act).Under the Code, employers must clearly state that bullying in the workplace is not acceptable, and that complaints of bullying will be dealt with sensitively. The Code highlights the procedures that must be put in place with employers; and reinforces obligations for employers to progress complaints informally where possible and, otherwise, formally as appropriate.

The Code also recognises that bullying can be conducted by non-employees such as customers, clients and business contacts. The Code recommends that a summary of the employer's anti-bullying policy be displayed at a place where such persons might attend.

Failure to follow the 2020 Code is not in itself an offence. However, Irish employment legislation provides that in any proceedings before a court, the Labour Court or the WRC, a code of practice will be admissible in evidence. Any provision of the 2020 Code which appears to be relevant to any question arising in the proceedings will be taken into account in determining that question.

The Irish government asked the HSA and WRC to review their respective codes with a view to developing a single, joint code, encompassing both organisations' remits and responsibilities in their area, in late 2019.

"The existence of a unified code of practice relating to bullying at work provides some clarity to employers and indeed employees on their obligations. Employers should also ensure that their managers and employees are provided with adequate information, training, development and supervision as necessary to ensure the prevention of bullying in the workplace," said Jason McMenamin.