From time to time, employers may be required to deal with complaints of bullying made by employees against their colleagues or members of management.

The following are some tips for employers in dealing with bullying complaints.

Implement a policy

It is important to have a clear policy in place to ensure such complaints are dealt with appropriately. The policy should set out the procedure for dealing with bullying complaints. This will include details of the person to whom the complaint should be made and the likely timescale involved in investigating the complaint (where appropriate). Employees should be made aware of the existence of a bullying or dignity at work policy at an early stage, preferably on commencement of their employment. The policy can form part of the contract of employment or the employee handbook.

Complaint in writing

Employees should be encouraged to put any complaint they may have in writing to a designated person or HR representative and this should be clearly set out in the applicable policy. Where a complaint is not detailed in writing, it can be more difficult for an employer to properly address and/or investigate the matter.

Mediation

Mediation should be offered to both parties to a dispute in the first instance in the interest of resolving the matter at an early stage and the option of mediation should be expressly included in the applicable policy. Mediation is a non-binding voluntary process where an independent third party works with the parties with a view to reaching an agreement on the particular issue. Both parties must agree to engage in mediation. Where successful, mediation can enable the parties to continue working together and can help to restore a positive working relationship.

Investigation

Where mediation is not successful or if both parties do not agree to engage in mediation, the complaint should be dealt with formally in accordance with the policy. This will usually require an investigation of the complaint to determine whether or not it is well-founded. Depending on the size of the organisation or the nature of the complaint, the employer may consider appointing an independent third party to conduct the investigation in accordance with agreed terms of reference.

Fair procedures

Rules of fair procedures and natural justice must be adhered to when dealing with a complaint of bullying. Where a complaint is made by one employee against another, the employee complained about is entitled to be informed and given full details of the specific complaint so that he/she has an opportunity to respond. The employees should also be permitted to be accompanied at any investigation or disciplinary meeting by a trade union representative or work colleague.

Outcome of investigation

Once the investigation has concluded, both parties should be notified of the outcome. Where the investigator concludes that bullying has not occurred, the parties should be notified that no further action will be taken, provided the complaint was made in good faith. If it is found that a complaint was not made in good faith, the employer may consider invoking the disciplinary procedure against that employee who has made the complaint. Finally, where the investigator concludes that bullying has occurred, the matter should be dealt with under the disciplinary procedure.