See also and ‘Bullying’ and ‘Sexual Harassment’ – Generally speaking, for the purposes of employment law, harassment should not be confused with bullying 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, in light of Employment Equality legislation, it may be construed as harassment if a Caucasian Irish male in his mid-20s harasses another employee of an entirely different demographic. While there may appear to be little or no difference when you consider that the behaviour carried out in both situations may be the same (e.g. verbal abuse), there is, in fact, a very important 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 that they are being discriminated against. Such a claim would not be open to an employee in a bullying scenario. Employers should be aware that they may be liable for such harassment if perpetrated by a fellow employee of the victim, the employer themselves or a client/business contact of the employer in circumstances where the employer ought reasonably to have taken steps to prevent such harassment. Employers should also adopt a written statement/policy on harassment in the workplace in line with relevant codes of practice and take steps to ensure that employees are familiar with the terms of that policy.
Recently a new employer’s Code of Practice on dealing with allegations of harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace was introduced, known as S.I. 208 of 2012 Employment Equality Act 1998 (Code of Practice) (Harassment) Order 2012. All employers are advised to familiarise themselves with this Code of Practice as it provides guidance on how to prevent such forms and harassment and respond accordingly if such harassment occurs.