see also ‘Harassment’ – this can be defined as ‘repeated inappropriate behaviour that undermines an employee’s right to dignity at work’. Generally speaking, for the purposes of employment law, bullying should not be confused with harassment as bullying may occur between individuals for any reason or no reason whatsoever. Harassment on the other hand would generally involve conduct that occurs on some form of discriminatory ground. For example, a Caucasian Irish male in his mid-20s may very well bully another Caucasian Irish male in his mid-20s. However, it may be construed as harassment if a Caucasian Irish male in his mid-20s engages in similar behaviour (e.g. verbal/physical abuse) against another employee of an entirely different demographic. While there may appear to be little or no difference, if the conduct in question is deemed to be harassment for the purposes of the Equality Acts (i.e. there was a discriminatory element) then the victimised employee can take a claim against their employer to the Equality Tribunal on the grounds of discrimination.
If an employee makes a complaint about an alleged bullying incident, it is vital that this is investigated fully and in great detail to establish whether or not the bullying can be substantiated. Appropriate action should be taken where the bullying is deemed to have taken place. Employers should also adopt a written statement/policy on harassment in the workplace in line with relevant codes of practice, which sets out that there will be a zero-tolerance policy in respect of such behaviour which provides an outline for the employees of the steps they should take if they are being bullied or are aware of a bullying problem in the workplace.