In early November 2015 a national anti-bullying programme was introduced by Law 13,185. The programme is considered an excellent starting point to counter such practices and it is likely to have an impact on employment relationships.

Workplace bullying

The new law defines 'bullying' as:

"any act of physical or psychological violence that is intentional and repetitive, that occurs without evident reason, and is practiced by individuals or groups against one or more persons, in order to intimidate or attack the victim, causing pain and distress, in a relationship of inequality powers of the involved parties."

Many situations that occur in the workplace may give rise to bullying – in particular, between immediate superiors and subordinates. Employers must exercise caution in this regard, particularly if no internal bullying policy has been established.

The new law classifies the main aspects of the bullying as:

  • personal attacks or insults;
  • gossip and pejorative nicknames;
  • threats; and
  • social isolation.

In theory, any physical or psychological act that aims to intimidate, humiliate or prejudice an individual or a group of individuals may be considered bullying.

Although Brazilian workplaces are often friendly and informal, this is not an excuse to permit a situation that may give rise to bullying among employees, regardless of their position. In this sense, employers must guarantee a professional and safe working environment in order to avoid potential disputes before the courts.

Cyberbullying

Another feature of the law that employers must consider relates to cyberbullying, which has become one of the main forms of bullying. Any situation in which an employee misuses employer-owned electronic devices or services (eg, intranet, instant messaging services or mobile phones, using apps such as Facebook or WhatsApp) in order to abuse or mock someone must be evaluated and punished accordingly.

If these situations are not dealt with carefully, an employer may face potential legal liabilities or reputational damage if the bullying or its failure to control it are exposed in the media.

Comment

The programme instituted by Law 13,185 provides a framework for creating, developing and disseminating policies to counter bullying. Employers must consider how to address these issues – in particular, when bullying occurs outside the workplace, as seems to be the case with most cyberbullying.

For further information of this topic please contact Vilma Toshie Kutomi or José Daniel Gatti Vergna at Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr e Quiroga Advogados by telephone (+55 11 3147 7600) or email (vilma.kutomi@mattosfilho.com.br or jvergna@mattosfilho.com.br). The Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr e Quiroga Advogados website can be accessed at www.mattosfilho.com.br.

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