FOR THE BULLYING VICTIMS OF WORKPLACE IT IS NOW PAYBACK TIME; More Workers Today Are Being Harassed in Their Places of Employment. until Now They Haven't Been Able to Prove It

Article excerpt

ONE in four employees in Ireland are bullied at some stage of their careers. And it is believed the number is steadily on the increase.

Bullying in the workplace can take many forms - verbal, psychological or physical. It can be conducted by a person or a group against another one person or a number of people.

The most serious effects of bullying are fear, anxiety and depression, all of which can lead to suicide. Victims can also suffer from severe loss of confidence and low self-esteem.

Victims of bullying have described their experiences as paramount to "absolute terrorism of the self".

In spite of the horrific number of cases there is no specific legislation, north or south of the border to deal with the growing problem.

While sexual, religious, racial and disability harassment are covered by anti-discrimination laws, bullying is seemingly a legal grey area.

But work is underway to change the situation.

Last month, Tom Kitt, Minister for Labour Affairs in the Republic, announced the establishment of a task force to look at ways of preventing workplace bullying, to identify the size of the problem and the employment sectors most at risk.

The task force will also develop proposals for practical programmes and strategies to prevent workplace bullying and to provide appropriate responses from the government.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, The Labour Relations Agency is adding the finishing touches to an advisory booklet for employers and employees on bullying which will be available within the next two months.

This booklet will highlight to employers the need for a bullying policy in the workplace.

Rampant bullying in schools hit the headlines five years ago. And only just recently workplace bullying has been identified as a burning issue.

The Anti-Bullying Research Centre in Trinity College, Dublin was initially set up to tackle bullying in schools. One year after it opened, calls from victims of bullying in the workplace jammed the phone lines.

"Judging by the amount of calls we are receiving, there is no doubt that bullying in the workplace is on the increase," said Murray Smith, a research assistant at the Anti-Bullying Centre.

Murray deals with victims of bullying every day and he has seen how victimisation of this sort can take its toll on a person.

"The person being bullied can suffer from various stress-related illnesses. They can suffer from headaches, sweating, shaking, stomach and bowel problems, loss of energy and appetite and high blood pressure.

"The psychological symptoms can be anger, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, loss of confidence, tearfulness, lack of motivation and a general loss of concentration.

"Victims can also become uncharacteristically aggressive, irritable, withdrawn and perhaps start smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs to cope with the situation at work.

"Furthermore, the victim of bullying can bring their personal problems into the home, making life nasty for their family. There is no end to the effects bullying can have on an individual.

Murray finds that although bullying occurs all year round, the Anti-Bullying Centre receives more calls around holiday periods.

"Christmas time and around the start of September are very busy times for all of us. Holiday periods are times of great stress for people in general. Then the bully is most likely to be at their worst. At the Anti- Bullying Centre we work with counsellors and solicitors who can also assist the victim.

"Bullying happens to people at work from their late teens up. There is no archetypal victim and no archetypal bully."

Bullying is not confined to those in authority as an employee might bully someone in the same grade or groups of employees may victimise a certain individual."

Paul Blease, an inquiry point manager in the Labour Relations Agency in Belfast admits that there is no pattern to bullying. …