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This week (the week from Monday November 16, 2020 to November 20, 2020) is a Week Against Bullying – a week that will raise awareness against prejudice and bullying not only in schools but also in the workplace and against cyberbullying should sharpen.
Maltese labor law does not deal directly with bullying, but with harassment, and it does so in the context of discriminatory treatment or sexual harassment. Does this mean that the employer has no obligation to protect workers from bullying at work unless it is a matter of discrimination?
The Advice, Mediation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) in the UK defines bullying as behavior by a person or group directed against another person that is undesirable and that makes that person feel uncomfortable. Under Maltese law, if this behavior is one of the “protected traits (i.e. religion, religious belief, disability, age, gender, sexual orientation, and racial or ethnic origin), it can be viewed as“ discriminatory treatment ”under equal treatment in of the Employment Ordinance (SL 452.95). Under the regulations, an employer is also considered discriminated against if he directs one person to discriminate against another person and if he ignores his obligation to suppress all forms of harassment in the workplace or within his organization. People who feel they have been discriminated against can refer the matter to the labor court for redress.
If the behavior of another employee or the employer itself does not constitute harassment, it does not mean that the employer has no obligation to suppress bullying. Although bullying in and of itself is not a criminal offense, an employee who is severely bullied in the workplace can resign and successfully apply for a constructive dismissal because they are faced with an impossible work environment.
What steps should a sensible employer take to prevent harassment, discriminatory treatment, and bullying claims? The first step is to have clear guidelines that are easily accessible to all employees and that define acceptable and unacceptable behavior at work. Second, the employer should also have a Complaints Policy outlining the steps taken by a worker who wishes to file a complaint. Third, the employer should promptly investigate any claims related to harassment, bullying and discrimination and, if necessary, take action once the investigation is complete. It is not enough for the employer to claim that they are unaware of unacceptable activities at work – the employer must be able to demonstrate that they are proactively preventing such activities.
The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance on the subject. You should seek advice from a professional about your particular circumstances.
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