Unlike the United States, many industrialized countries have addressed the problem workplace bullying, some starting as early as the 1990s.
Workplace bullying is recognized as an offense to human dignity in Europe, where the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that every worker has the right to working conditions that respect his or her health, safety and dignity.
The European Union’s social partnership organizations (business and labor groups that negotiate EU employment policy) signed a “framework agreement” in 2007 requiring its members to implement a zero tolerance policy on status-blind workplace harassment. This agreement outlines training, investigation and management guidelines for workplace bullying. In countries e that have no specific legislation governing workplace harassment “there is usually a more general law on safety and health or equal treatment that covers the different aspects of work, both physical and psychosocial work environment.” See European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, European Risk Observation Report (2009).
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in June 202o ratified the adoption of Convention No. 190 (2019) which recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment, and recognizing that violence and harassment in the world of work can constitute a human rights violation or abuse. The ILO defines violence and harassment as: “… a range of unacceptable behaviours, practices or threats thereof, whether a single occurrence or repeated, that aim at, result in,or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.”
According to the ILO, violence may also consist of repeated actions which by themselves may be relatively minor, but which can cumulatively come to constitute serious forms of violence such as sexual harassment, bullying or mobbing.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines workplace violence as ‘intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person or against a group or community that either results in, or has a high likelihood of resulting in, injury, death, psychological harm, wrong development or deprivation. The WHO says workplace violence includes acts arising out of power relations, including threats and intimidation
Here is an incomplete list of some of the countries that have enacted workplace bullying provisions. Readers are encouraged to add to this list:
AUSTRALIA: Effective July 1, 2013, workers who believe they have been bullied can complain to the federal Fair Work Commission (FWC) , the nation’s national workplace relations tribunal. The FWC will deal with the matter as a priority. The FWC can issue an order in response to the complaint and/or refer the matter to the relevant state safety regulator. Perpetrators face civil penalties and fines ( up to approximately $34,000 American dollars). Bullying” is defined as “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.” It does not include “reasonable management practices including performance management.”
BELGIUM: Belgium enacted legislation against moral harassment in 2002 which obliges companies to:
- set up an internal procedure to handle harassment complaints by employees;
- establish a plan for preventing the occurrence of violence and harassment at work;
- appoint a prevention adviser.
Failure to develop a prevention policy or to assign a prevention advisor is punishable by criminal prosecution (imprisonment of up to one year) or administrative penalties and fines against the employer.
CANADA: In 2004, Quebec adopted legislation that recognized the importance of protecting employees from any form of violence, whether verbal, psychological or physical in the workplace. The Quebec Labour Standards Act states: Every employee has a right to a work environment free from psychological harassment. Employers must take reasonable action to prevent psychological harassment and, whenever they become aware of such behaviour, to put a stop to it.
By 2019, 10 of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories had legislation for both workplace violence and harassment. They include: Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island (PEI), New Brunswick, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories. New Brunswick recently passed legislation addressing workplace violence and harassment. Nova Scotia had legislation on workplace violence, but not on harassment, whereas Québec has legislation for workplace harassment, but not workplace violence. The Yukon Territory did not have legislation for either workplace violence or harassment, but provided guidance through policies and procedures documentation. The Government of Canada had legislation for workplace violence and harassment for all federally regulated workplaces. Several Canadian provinces have subsequently enacted workplace anti-bully laws, including Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and British Columbia. (Source: CSA Group, Preventing Violence and Harassment in Canadian Workplaces, Dec. 2019).
The Ontario law, Bill 168, which became effective in 2010, change the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act to prohibit “Engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”
* See separate tab in International category for information about Quebec, which passed the first workplace anti-bully law in North America.
FINLAND: Occupational Safety and Health Act No 738/2002. Section 28 — Harassment: ‘If harassment or other inappropriate treatment of an employee occurs at work and causes hazards or risks to the employee’s health, the employer, after becoming aware of the matter, shall make available the means and measures for remedying this situation (harassment or other inappropriate treatment).’
FRANCE: France enacted the Social Modernization Law of January 17, 2002, which introduced provisions to the French Labor Code.
– Civil and criminal penalties for “moral” harassment.
– More than a single act is required.
– The conduct must have the purpose or effect of degrading the employee’s right to dignity, affecting the employee’s mental or physical health, or compromising the employee’s career.
– The law places an affirmative obligation on employers to take all necessary actions to prevent moral harassment, and prohibits them from retaliating against employees who report moral harassment or who refuse to be victims of moral harassment.
– Labor tribunals have construed the Social Modernization Law as holding employers strictly liable for actionable conduct, even if they implemented measures to prevent moral harassment.
– The law also provides for the automatic nullification of any employment contract termination resulting from moral harassment.
– Additionally, labor tribunals have ordered employers to pay damages for breach or “disloyal non-performance” of an employment contract based upon a failure to prevent moral harassment.
Article L. 1152-1 of the French Labor Code Employees should not be subjected to repeated actions constituting moral harassment, which intentionally or unintentionally deteriorate their working conditions and are likely to violate their rights and dignity, impair their physical or mental health, or jeopardize their professional future
GERMANY: The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs website, on its page “Bullying at work” states, “Employers are obliged to protect their employees’ right of privacy and health. They must therefore prevent mobbing, act against employees who mob others and take all possible measures to prevent mobbing in their companies.” German constitutional principles value human dignity and free will and provide d a foundation for the common law development of German anti-bullying law.
IRELAND: Ireland first passed a law aimed at preventing workplace bullying in 2002. An improved law was drawn up by the Irish Health and Safety Authority and came into effect on May 1, 2007. Its title is “Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work.” The Code requires employers to manage work activities to prevent improper conduct or behavior in the workplace and lays out a formal procedure to deal with bullying disputes. It also requires employers to provide preventive training.
KOREA: In 1999 the Korean Ministry of Employment and Labor announced “Measures to Prevent Mobbing in Workplaces.” The Ministry defines mobbing as “mentally or physically harmful acts conducted by business owners, superiors, or workers who formed a group to alienate a certain person from the group to which the person belongs, thereby restricting his performance of roles as a member or neglecting or slandering him.” However, there are no specific Korean regulations or laws to prevent or deal with workplace bullying and harassment.
LUXEMBOURG: Luxembourg signed its first collective agreement on moral harassment in 2001. More recently, in 2009, Luxembourg published a labor regulation that provides a general definition of the term ‘moral harassment’ that is not limited to harassment based on discrimination. The regulation provides that:
“Harassment occurs when a person belonging to a company commits wrongful, deliberate and repeated acts against a worker or manager of the company with the purpose or effect of: violating his or her rights or human dignity; altering his or her circumstances or working conditions or compromising his or her professional future by creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive work environment; or affecting his or her physical or psychological health.”
NORWAY. Working Environment Act:, Section 4-3, states: ‘(3) Employees shall not be subjected to harassment or other improper conduct.’ Harassment relates to situations where a person experiences actions or the omission of actions as negative, unreasonable and offending. It is harassment when one or several individuals repeatedly over time are exposed to negative actions. In addition, there has to be an imbalance in the relative strength: the subject being harassed must be in a psychologically weaker position than the person who is harassing.
In 2004, Norway’s Prime Minister launched a campaign against workplace bullying as part of the country’s Tripartite Agreement on an Inclusive Workplace.
THE NETHERLANDS: Since 1994, employers in The Netherlands have been legally obliged through the Working Conditions Act to protect their employees from psychological aggression in the workplace and their negative consequences, including mobbing/bullying.
POLAND: Poland amended its statutes to define mobbing and to provide an avenue for reviewing employee claims.
SPAIN: The LaborInspectorate has taken the lead internationally in framing bullying as an occupational health and safety hazard and in developing a Code of Practice for the labor inspectorate. Various legal remedies exist and a Spanish court held in 2001 that workers were entitled to receive compensation for an “industrial accident” caused by moral harassment.
SWEDEN: In 1993, Sweden became the first country in the world to enact specific anti-bullying legislation.
The Ordinance on Victimization at Work, (Cite: SWEDISH NATIONAL BOARD OF OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH, VICTIMIZATION AT WORK, ORDINANCE (Arbetsmiljoverket [AFS] 1993-17) (Swed.)) enacted as part of Sweden’s occupational safety and health laws;
– Protects against “victimization,” defined as “recurrent reprehensible or distinctly negative actions which are directed against individual employees in an offensive manner and can result in those employees being placed outside the workplace community.”
– The employer must have a system in place for detecting and correcting “unsatisfactory working conditions, problems of work organization or deficiencies of co-operation,” which could lead to victimization.”
– The employer must take “counter-measures” upon detecting signs of victimization, including conducting a “special investigation . . . to ascertain whether the causes of shortcomings of co-operation are to be found in the way in which work is organized.”
– The employer must have procedures for helping or supporting employees who are subjected to victimization
– Penalty: Employers who fail to comply with these obligations may be fined and/or imprisoned for up to one year.
TURKEY: An employer must protect all employees from psychological abuse in the workplace pursuant to an amendment to Article 417 of the Debts law passed by the Turkish parliament in January 2011. The law makes it an offenSe to commit certain acts or fail to take action to prevent the commitment of acts such as verbal insults, belittling, and intentional isolation.
UNITED KINGDOM: No legislation specifically to combat workplace bullying but British courts have interpreted an existing anti-stalking law, the Protection from Harassment Act (Protection from Harassment Act, 1997, c. 40, §1 (Eng.)) as providing redress for victims of workplace bullying. Among other things:
– The Protection from Harassment Act (PHA) prohibits individuals from pursuing a course of conduct that either amounts to harassment, or that they should know amounts to harassment.
– Courts have interpreted the statute’s vague definition of “harassment” as conduct:
(i) occurring on at least two occasions,
(ii) targeted at the claimant,
(iii) calculated in an objective sense to cause distress, and
(iv) that is objectively judged to be oppressive and unreasonable.
– Employer liability must be “just and reasonable in the circumstances.” Whether or not an employer has implemented a harassment policy and procedures is one factor courts may consider in determining whether the imposition of vicarious liability is reasonable.
– Remedies: injunctive relief and compensatory and emotional distress damages. No cap on damages. Significantly, a court recently awarded a victim of workplace bullying a record-setting$1.6 million in damages under the PHA.
In addition, under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, the employer has a duty of care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health safety and welfare at work of their employees. This includes protection from personal injury, described as any disease and any impairment of a person s physical or mental condition..