INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 20(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1969
- AND -
(REPRESENTED BY SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION)
Chairman: Ms Jenkinson
Employer Member: Mr Pierce
Worker Member: Ms Ni Mhurchu
1. Alleged bullying and harassment.
2. The dispute (one of five such disputes) concerns a worker who has been employed as a security officer since 1987. The worker was the subject of disciplinary proceedings and a hearing which was held in 1996 related to his security duties. The worker was unhappy with the outcome of these proceedings and appealed the disciplinary board's decision. The worker claims that he has been subjected to unfair treatment and has suffered harassment and intimidation at the hands of the senior security officer and two workers on his shift. The Chief Security Officer and Senior Management took no action to stop the discriminatory treatment of the worker despite the fact that he has made numerous complaints about it. The Company rejected the worker's claim stating that he had at all times been treated in a reasonable manner and that management had been hindered in its investigation of the workers alleged claims because of lack of co-operation on his part. In September, 1998 the worker referred a complaint to the Labour Court under Section 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969 and agreed to be bound by the Court's recommendation. A Court hearing was held on the 26th of March, 1999.
3. 1. Between 1992 and 1995 the worker was elected by the security section as their union shopsteward and he did his best to represent their interests at all times. However, he found it extremely difficult to liaise with the Chief Security Officer who became very agitated when dealing with industrial relations matters. The worker made a complaint about the Chief Security Officer to the Personnel Department regarding verbal abuse but agreed to drop the allegation on condition that the future shopsteward would be treated properly. Management's response was to state that none of its line managers would act in an abusive fashion.
2. The Chief Security Officer rostered the worker on a shift in 1994 knowing that the worker and the senior security officer on that shift had serious differences. The bullying and harassment which the worker was being subjected to on that shift has had a detrimental effect on his health and the worker has had a significant amount of sick absence in recent times.
3. Prior to the worker's disciplinary hearings his sick absences were very rare. The worker's family has also suffered the stress and strain associated with his current poor health.
4. At all times throughout the period of his employment the worker has endeavoured to carry out his duties in a competent efficient manner. He has nonetheless challenged unfair practices and sought fair play. The worker has found it very difficult because of the treatment meted out to him by the Senior Security Officer and some members of his shift who have tried to undermine his position. The worker maintains that Senior Management has done nothing to help the worker and to combat the unfair treatment to which he has been subjected.
5. The Union is seeking that all unfair and untrue comments and reports be removed from the worker's file, and that this be confirmed in writing, that he receive a letter of apology for the treatment meted out to him over the last three years and that he be paid compensation for the trauma he has suffered.
4. 1. Management has made every effort to investigate the allegations of the worker, however, it has been thwarted by the non-co-operation of the Union on the matter. Because of the refusal to put his allegations through due procedures the internal process for resolving such issues has not been exhausted.
2. The Company regards bullying and harassment in the workplace as unacceptable behaviour. Proven perpetrators of such behaviour render themselves liable to disciplinary action. It is clearly laid out in the Company's Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures (details supplied to the Court), that the Company has a duty to investigated any such grievance/allegation but considers it reasonable and correct to expect the full co-operation of the worker concerned. It is unreasonable for the worker to raise allegations in such vague general terms and then not accept the Company's offer to investigate them.
3. The Company has had the opportunity to examine the detail of the workers allegations. However, due to the fact that it was unable to carry out a formal investigation under its procedures, and due to the fact that the Chief Security Officer has retired from RTE there has been some difficulty in dealing with the allegations. Management feels that having examined the workers allegations in detail there is no way that the information contained in the submission justify allegations made by the worker.
4. The Chief Security Officer has denied the worker's allegations and any roster change were done for sound security reasons. These changes are quite normal within the organisation. The Company did take up a number of issues with the worker relating to the carrying out of his security duties. He was spoken to by the Chief Security Officer in the presence of a senior security officer in this regard.
5. The investigation by the disciplinary board which related to the worker's use of a tape recorder in his dealings with fellow security officers led to the worker being reprimanded and a letter placed on his file. Following his appeal the wording of the letter was amended to ameliorate the reprimand.
6. Management regards the worker's allegations of bullying/harassment as being totally unfounded, his statements are vague generalisations and inaccuracies which appear to be made in some way to excuse his own behaviour in the area. The worker was given every opportunity to put his allegations through Company procedures. He refused to do so and only now has he set out in writing in a vague, general way, the allegation of harassment/bullying.
The Court has given careful consideration to all the written and oral submissions of both sides. Having considered the five claims and their different details the Court is of the view that a solution would best be served by issuing one recommendation in relation to all five claims.
The Court is of the view that the disciplinary hearings of December 1995/January 1996 were unsatisfactorily handled and have been the source of many of the problems in this dispute. These problems were accentuated by failures in communication between the personnel department and the chief security officer, who at times was unaware of the complaints made.
The Court recommends that the company should now formally acknowledge this situation to the complainants.
The Company has since recognised the mistakes made in conducting disciplinary hearings, and has indicated its intention to ensure that all future investigations/hearings will be dealt with in a different manner so as to ensure that the same problems will not arise.
No satisfactory procedure was in place to cope with the allegations of bullying and harassment in the Company. When the Union notified management of these allegations, management were slow to deal with the situation. These were serious allegations which should have invoked an immediate response. Management finally attempted to deal with the allegations under the existing grievance procedures.
Since this issue was referred to the Court, an agreed procedure has been put in place which is specifically designed to deal with bullying and harassment allegations. This procedure was too late to deal with this dispute. Both sides lost out as a result of deficient procedures.
The Court considers that the most satisfactory result to be achieved at this point would be to look jointly to the future operation and relations within the Security section and to attempt to facilitate a fresh start in order to establish a good working environment.
This possibility is facilitated from the outset by a change in management of the section. The new manager must not be saddled by the “baggage” that has developed over the past three years. Additionally the development of new procedures should assist in clearing any future problems.
With this in mind, the Court recommends that the following steps should be taken:
- all critical letters or reports connected with the disciplinary hearings and with all aspects of this dispute should be removed from the personnel files of the five individuals involved in this dispute. Confirmation of this action should be given to each of the claimants and to the Union along with the formal acknowledgement referred to above.
- in an effort to ensure that the new bullying and harassment procedures are effective, management should engage the services of a professional in this field to communicate the policy to all employees, and train all supervisors and managers on how to handle complaints under these procedures. Both the company and the union should consider jointly the structuring of such training in line with clause 6 of Partnership 2000 - High Level Skills and Life Long Learning.
- management must accept that all employees have a right to be treated with respect and dignity in the performance of their duty
- employees must accept their duties and obligations to management and that grievances must be processed under the appropriate procedures in the normal way
- the training needs of supervisors in the security area must be assessed particularly with regard to people management skills, and the identified needs should be addressed as soon as possible.
The Court is of the view that it should not have been necessary for the Union to refer these claims under Section 20 of the Industrial Relations Acts, 1969-90. Management should have made every effort to investigate these allegations before referring to a third party.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
10th May, 1999______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Tom O'Dea, Court Secretary.