by Ellen Pinkos Cobb
Multinational employers know the importance of protecting against physical risks in the Workplace. Occupational health and safety legislation has for decades mandated that employers have a duty of care to provide a physically safe work environment for employees, visitors, and contractors.
What US based multinational employers may not know is that in numerous countries, there is health and safety legislation prohibiting psychological harm as well. In these countries, the employer’s duty of care requires ensuring persons in the workplace are safe both physically and psychologically. This requirement is often interpreted to include a workplace free of bullying, violence and other forms of harassment. European countries, Canadian Provinces and Australian territories have all prohibited workplace bullying under occupational health and safety laws.
The costs of workplace bullying are far reaching for both employees and companies. Workplaces in which bullying, harassment, and violence are allowed to occur undermine the pursuit of a business’ growth and profitability and may lead to a detrimental impact on the corporate image with the public at large. Employer and organizational costs may include those from litigation, increased staff turnover and loss of morale, absenteeism, increases in health care and disability costs, higher levels of client dissatisfaction, early retirement costs, and counseling and employee assistance program costs.
If trepidation over a damaged reputation is not enough of a concern, courts have stepped in to emphasize that workplace bullying is a serious offense. Verdicts in Ireland, Finland, France and Sweden have led to management and supervisor liability for bullying under health and safety laws.
Workplace bullying and harassment may be managed like other occupational health and safety hazards. Risk assessments, policies and procedures, information dissemination and training, complaint and investigation processes, resolution/action and follow-up can ensure a compliant and productive workplace.