INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 2001
SECTION 20(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1969
ATHLONE INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
(REPRESENTED BY ARTHUR COX, SOLICITORS)
- AND -
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
Chairman: Ms Jenkinson
Employer Member: Mr Keogh
Worker Member: Mr. Somers
1. Process for investigating bullying allegations.
2. The issue in dispute concerns the Institute's policy for investigating allegations of bullying and/or harassment. On the 2nd of November, 2000, the Institute received a formal complaint of harassment from an employee against another member of staff. The Institute proposed to investigate the complaint in accordance with its October, 2000, Dignity Policy/Code of Practice. This Policy provided for an investigation of the complaint to be carried out by the Equality Officer, who would present a written report to a three person Review Panel. The Panel would then decide whether a case of harassment was substantiated. Either party would have the right of appeal to the relevant state/statutory agency.
The member of staff against whom the complaint was made, objected to the procedure outlined as he believed that the Equality Officer had advised the complainant and that, as such, it would not be appropriate for her to conduct the investigation. In addition, the Institute's Policy had not been agreed with the Unions. SIPTU, on the worker's behalf, requested that an independent investigation be carried out by an external expert with experience in investigating bullying cases. The Institute did not agree to an external investigation.
The Union referred the issue to a Rights Commissioner, but the Institute objected to a Rights Commissioner's investigation. On the 21st of August, 2001, the Union referred
the dispute to the Labour Court in accordance with Section 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969, and agreed to be bound by the Court's recommendation. The Court investigated the dispute on the 23rd of November, 2001, the earliest date suitable to the parties.
3. 1. The worker concerned has experienced unacceptable treatment from his employer, which makes it impossible for him to trust that allegations of bullying made against him by a colleague could be investigated and resolved internally in a fair and equitable manner.
2. In December, 1999 the worker was refused access to his own personnel file. However, when he finally saw his file he found that it had not been properly maintained, that it contained incomplete sets of correspondence and that some of the information on it was inaccurate. The worker had also made a number of complaints himself which have not been properly addressed or investigated.
3. In January, 2001, the Equality Officer gave the Union inaccurate information concerning the October 2000 Policy, which had not been agreed with the Unions. This, in addition to the worker's belief that she had advised the complainant, compromised the Union's confidence in her willingness to be fair and above board.
4. The worker concerned believes that an agreed independent external expert should be appointed as speedily as possible, as it is now 18 months since the alleged incident of harassment. He will cooperate fully with the investigation, which he believes will exonerate him and will restore his good name.
4. 1. The Equality Officer categorically denies that she advised or assisted the complainant in relation to her complaint of harassment against the worker concerned. She also denies that she was in any way unable to deal with the complaint on an impartial and objective basis.
2. On the 13th of November, 2001, a revised Policy, which was agreed with the Unions, was adopted by the Governing Body. The revised Policy provides for the investigation of formal complaints by a three person investigating team, instead of by the Equality Officer. It also provides for appeal to the Rights Commissioners' Service and/or to the Labour Court.
3. It is entirely proper for the Institute to seek to deal with formal complaints itself initially, whether through the 2000 Policy or through the 2001 Policy (which has been agreed with the Unions). It is unreasonable of the Union to seek to have a complaint dealt with outside of the Institute before the Institute itself has an opportunity to investigate and deal with the complaint.
The Court has considered all aspects of this case. Given the current position whereby an agreed Anti Harassment Policy is now in place, which has been agreed by all Unions concerned and approved by the Governing Body, the Court is of the view that this is the most appropriate forum for investigating the complaint of bullying made on the 2nd of November, 2000.
The Court is of the view that any outstanding issues resulting from the process can be handled by the appeals procedure included in the policy.
The Court so recommends.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
10th December, 2001______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Dympna Greene, Court Secretary.