Bullying & Harassment

WHAT COUNTS AS WORKPLACE BULLYING ?

Bullying is defined as intentionally offensive and unkind behaviour from one person or group towards another to cause them discomfort. 

We might think that bullying is something that only happens between school-aged children, but the reality is that it can happen in a variety of places and across all age groups. It is far more common than most people may think. There are no national statistics available just yet, but it’s been estimated that 2 in 5 or 40% of Irish workers have experienced bullying at work.

Bullying and harassment can be recurring problems for those of us on the autism spectrum throughout our lifetimes. Its consequences on one’s self-esteem and mental health are well known, and these can be as severe in adults as they are in children.

Typical examples of bullying and harassing behaviour at work include, but are not limited to:

  1. Abuse of authority and position
  2. Constant or overexaggerated criticism of your ability while making no effort to help you improve
  3. Impolite, jokes or rude remarks about your personality or disability
  4. Humiliating you in front of colleagues and or customers
  5. Sexual harassment – this includes touching you, standing too close to you or sending you inappropriate messages at work
  6. Physical abuse

It is also important to remember that bullying can be direct or indirect.

WHAT THE LAW SAYS

The Employment Equality Acts, 1998-2015 are the main pieces of legislation outlining the rights and protections of employees living with disabilities. They outlaw discrimination in the workplace across a number of key areas, including vocational training and work experience. In relation to autistic individuals, the Acts aim to:

  1. Promote equality
  2. Ban victimisation
  3. Ban sexual and other forms of harassment
  4. Make sure that appropriate facilities are in place for people with disabilities to access and take part in work

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act provides a Code of Practice for employees and employers with the means of identifying and stamping out harassment in the workplace. As part of this strategy, the Code outlines:

  1. What counts as bullying at work
  2. How to identify harassing behaviour
  3. The means to develop an adequate prevention policy for employers
  4. Providing appropriate training and instruction to employees for such a policy

Employers have a duty of care to their employees in preventing and proactively dealing with instances of bullying within their workplaces.

The Act places an obligation of compliance with the Codes on the employee’s part. It also requires employees to actively take care of themselves and their colleagues at work.

Employers in Northern Ireland are not permitted to discriminate against jobseekers or employees living with disabilities. This includes those diagnosed with autism. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) outlines a number of legal obligations on employers, including:

  1. making suitable arrangements for recruiting new staff
  2. work placement opportunities
  3. dismissal or redundancy
  4. how the work is arranged and performed

Disability-related harassment, whether intended or not that causes hurt and offence, is prohibited and a punishable offence. It can include behaviour such as name-calling, making fun of a person’s disability or of making fun of people with disabilities generally.

WHAT CAN I DO IF I THINK I’M BEING BULLIED?

If you think you are being bullied in work, try to talk to someone you trust about it. Speaking out can be difficult for anyone who’s being harassed, but it helps a great deal in the long term. This person might be a family member, a friend, a colleague or your employer.

If you would rather see someone individually, your workplace may offer sessions with an onsite or contracted counsellor. Alternatively, you can avail of a professional on the HSE or a private therapist.

Keep a record of each time you experience bullying at work, if you can. Your employer will have a better idea of what to do if you can give them examples of what kind of harassment you’ve been experiencing. Make sure that you record the date and time, what was said or done, who by, if anyone else was nearby and how it made you feel.

Before you take any action, it’s a good idea to weigh up your options and have a plan in place.

There are a number of support groups available for individuals to avail of and are listed at the bottom of this page. These organisations provide specialist guidance on what steps you can take and what options are available.

If there is a complaints procedure at work, read up on how it works and use it. If you feel that your workplace aren’t taking the complaint seriously enough or have failed to effectively deal with it, you may make a complaint under employment equality or health and safety legislation to the Workplace Relations Commission.

Get legal advice if you feel that you want to quit your job because of the bullying.

Can this be improved? Contact webeditor@asiam.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.