Claims for injuries from bullying in the workplace are on the rise and are increasingly becoming the basis for personal injuries claims as well as under the auspices of employment law itself. The High Court has recently given a number of judgments which provide guidance in this area through claims for personal injuries with the largest award for bullying of €255,276 delivered in Ruffley v. Board of Management St Annes School  IEHC 235. This sort of award raises issues for employers human resources departments and also insurance costs. Some of the cases discussed are, in particular, pertinent for employers who are dealing with disciplinary issues in the workplace as to best practice to avoid such a claim against them and how to deal with allegations of bullying and harassment in the workplace.
What follows is an examination of the different types of claims that can exist under the legislation and the case law which provides guidance. First we look at what the legal definition of bullying is and then as an actionable legal wrong. Bullying can come under different headings which will be examined – Health, Safety & Welfare at Work Act, breach of contract, breach of duty and negligence (personal injuries actions) are all dealt with here. What employers should be aware of is that an employee may make a claim that combines all three of these headings but the Court may decide the case under only one depending on the facts.
Personal injuries claims are examined in detail as this has been the growth area of the last number of years and there are a number of High Court judgments which examine various aspects of these claims. The test for foreseeability of injury, medical evidence and disciplinary & grievance procedures have all been the subject of judicial analysis over the last seven years or so. The concept of “corporate bullying” is something which has also been recognised in recent judgments and will receive attention as the foreseeability requirement is often not relevant in these cases.
Ultimately employers must have up to date procedures and policies for dealing with any allegations of bullying or harassment in the workplace. The way a complaint is dealt with by an employer can have much more impact on a Court then the actual facts of bullying itself. Fair procedures in disciplinary actions and investigations are of upmost importance and cannot be mere lip service to the ideals.