by Ellen Pinkos Cobb
Workplace bullying is increasingly acknowledged as a global issue, affecting most countries, professions, and workers. Although there is presently no law against workplace bullying in the United States, what about a US based multinational business with offices and employees abroad, in a country with legislation regulating workplace bullying? What does that employer have to do?
To set the scene....
A 2011 Monster Global Poll surveyed workers worldwide, asking “Have you ever been bullied at work?” 16, 517 responses received indicated the following:
European countries which have enacted laws prohibiting workplace bullying (also known as mobbing or moral harassment) include Sweden and France, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Serbia. Canadian provinces such as Ontario have imposed obligations on employers to protect workers from psychological harassment in the workplace. An employer must have a written workplace policy with respect to harassment, and must provide a worker with information and instruction on the contents of the policy.
With Australia’s introduction of the anti-bullying jurisdiction of the Fair Work Commission in January 2014, a worker in Australia who reasonably believes he/she has been bullied at work may apply to the Fair Work Commission. If an investigation determines that workplace bullying has occurred, and will continue to occur, a stop bullying order may be issued.
This leaves an employer in a risky position: workers are being bullied in countries with laws prohibiting this conduct. What does an employer do? Institute workplace policies prohibiting bullying, and a complaint and investigation process for instances for situations in which it does occur? Train supervisors and workers?
Do nothing and hope for the best? Maybe not. In France, an employer may be held liable for acts of workplace bullying, known as moral harassment, committed against employees regardless of the fact that he/she is not the author of the harassment and took proactive measures to prevent it. Courts in Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Canada and Australia have returned verdicts for workers alleging bullying.