Dignity at Work

Anthony Brady, Industrial Relations and Employment Services Executive with the CIF, discusses the importance of having a Dignity at Work Policy.

Generally at this time of year companies would have booked, or would be thinking about booking an end of year party/lunch. With that in mind, we here in the Industrial Relations and Employment Services Department would normally be giving members tips on how to avoid possible pitfalls during the festive season. However, as we are reminded on a daily basis, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, this is a year like no other, and the normal end of year get-togethers, as we know them, may not be an option in 2020.

Instead of discussing company parties, and the potential pitfalls for employers, I would like to draw your attention to Dignity at Work, and the need for each company to have a policy on same. A policy on Dignity at Work covers the areas of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, and in particular, the company procedures which should be adopted should a complaint under one of these headings be lodged. A Dignity at Work policy should be guided by the relevant codes of practice on such areas, available at https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/what_you_should_know/codes_practice/.

Bullying, harassment and/or sexual harassment can have a detrimental effect on both the individual concerned and the company in a number of ways, and having a Dignity at Work policy in place will help minimise any such effects. Individual workers who are being bullied or harassed in the workplace, or at a company event, may suffer from one or more of the following:

  • Reduced self-esteem;
  • Work withdrawal and sickness absence;
  • Sleep and digestive disturbances;
  • Increased depression/self-blame/anxiety;
  • Family tension and stress;
  • Financial problems due to absence.

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, employers have a duty of “managing and conducting work activities in such a way as to prevent, so far as reasonably practicable, any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health or welfare at work of his or her employees at risk.” Protecting employees from any such bullying, harassment and/or sexual harassment is therefore not only morally correct but forms part of an employer’s legal duty. As mentioned above, both individuals and companies suffer from this kind of behaviour. The following is an example of effects it may have on a company:

  • Reduces productivity – therefore reducing profit;
  • Creates a hostile work environment;
  • Promotes absenteeism;
  • Impacts workers compensation claims;
  • Results in potentially costly and time-consuming legal issues​;
  • Increases employee turnover, in turn placing an added financial cost on replacing staff;
  • Reputational damage.

In relation to constructing your own Dignity at Work policy; it should first include an informal procedure. This is recommended initially as best practice and can often provide a fast and effective solution. It can involve employees attempting to resolve the issues amongst themselves or with the assistance of a manager. However, depending on the seriousness of the incident(s), a formal procedure may be more appropriate, and an investigation commenced. The formal procedure involves:

  • A written complaint submitted to the employee’s manager, another member of management or the HR department etc.;
  • The alleged perpetrator will receive a copy of the complaint and be given an opportunity to respond;
  • Terms of Reference devised;
  • Representation permitted by a fellow colleague or trade union representative;
  • Investigation – meetings with the complainant, alleged perpetrator and relevant witnesses (if applicable);
  • Natural justice and fair procedures throughout;
  • Right to appeal the outcome.

The importance of a company policy on Dignity at Work cannot be understated. Claims tend to increase during the festive season and can be costly if not handled appropriately and sensitively.

For queries relating to the above, or assistance with company policies and procedures, please contact a member of the Industrial Relations & Employment Services Department on 01 406 6000.

Anthony Brady, Industrial Relations and Employment Services, CIF 

 


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