Bullying Leads to Constructive Dismissal

Background to the Complaint

In this case, the claimant according to Court documents commenced work for the respondent as a “goafer” in September 1996.

By May 1998 she had progressed to the position of architectural assistant/technician.
Her employment was largely uneventful until incidents occurred between her and a personal assistant/receptionist.
The claimant alleged at the hearing that the PA had not processed documents for her had not let her back into the office at lunchtimes and had shown bullying and aggressive behaviour towards her characterised by the PA screaming at her.
The claimant’s position was that office procedures had been amended in such a way as to deny her the right to accept or make telephone calls to clients other than responding at a particular time of day to a list of calls she was presented with by the PA.
She claimed there had also been excessive monitoring of her work.
In early April 2004 a meeting was held to discuss office practices.
The respondent threatened to make deductions from the claimant’s pay due to her failure to complete timesheets properly even though no such provision existed in her contract of employment allowing her employer to do so.
At a follow up meeting the claimant stated she wished to leave her employment and subsequently initiated a claim for unfair dismissal through her solicitor.

Constructive Dismissal Claim Upheld

The claimant’s employment lacked “the dignity which every employee is entitled to” stated the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the above case.
The Tribunal determined “the failure of the respondent to take effective action to resolve the situation existing within the employment had rendered the position of the claimant to lack that dignity which every employee is entitled to and thus justify the claimant in treating herself as being constructively dismissed”.
The Tribunal also noted “the absence of compliance by the respondent with the legislative requirements placed on an employer by the employment protection legislation. In particular it notes the absence of any proper disciplinary or grievance procedures within the respondent company and the failure to comply with the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts, 1994 to 2001.”
Compensation of €38,000 was awarded under the Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1977 to 2001.

Lessons to Learn About Handling Bullying Complaints

This case is important because it illustrates clearly that there are many types of behaviour at work that must be addressed if an employer is to successfully defend a constructive dismissal claim centred on allegations of bullying or conduct that is relevant to employee dignity at work.
The notion that bullying at work is conduct that involves physical or verbal abuse of staff only is a very dated one.
It is clear that there must be in place at work policies and procedures that allow employees to identify and challenge unacceptable conduct – in the absence of which, courts and tribunals are likely to apply the full weight of the law against the employer.
Case: Siobhan Coady v Mary Duggan & Partners Limited, Employment Appeals Tribunal, 2007

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