How to deal with an allegation of bullying at work

Author: PM editorial | Date: 18 Jan 2017

An employer should always tackle the problem head on before it escalates

Bullying in the workplace can take many forms – from threatening or insulting language to cyber-bullying or trolling. Its effects can be toxic, including increased levels of absenteeism, decreased motivation and negative impacts on mental health.
 
Unsurprisingly, it is both an organisation’s responsibility, and within its interests, to tackle the problem head on.
 
The issue is taken seriously in Singapore. Following the passing of the Protection from Harassment Act by the Singaporean parliament in 2014, the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress, and Singapore National Employers Federation jointly issued a Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment in December last year.
 
The guide offers practical advice on developing measures to manage harassment in the workplace, including early prevention and the importance of neutrality and leadership commitment in establishing a workplace genuinely free of harassment.
 
According to Julia Yeo, head of employment practice at law firm Clyde & Co in Singapore, it is likely that a bullying incident would be included under that Act. “In that instance, the victim has the option to either file the necessary report with the authorities, or address it internally, through the employment channel,” she said.
 
Companies should have an anti-bullying and harassment policy in place, which they need to actively communicate, says Yeo. “This encourages employees to come forward if such an incident occurs, so that you can deal with it internally, rather than have an employee go direct to the authorities.”
 
Under the policy, it’s also important to communicate that there would be a no-retaliation stance for reporting, she says, and that the matter, and the identities of the individuals involved, would be kept confidential.
 
If an allegation is made, establish a realistic timeline to deal with the complaint, and appoint a neutral person to handle it, says Yeo. Investigations should be carried out discreetly and the accused should be clear about what has been said about them.
 
Both parties should have the opportunity to deal with the other person’s explanation for the allegation; only if it is necessary should other employees be called on as witnesses, and then on a strictly need-to-know basis. The HR practitioner or other individual appointed to investigate the matter “should have access to all the necessary documentation to make a fair decision, or at least achieve a closure of the complaint,” said Yeo.
 
While an organisation’s full range of disciplinary sanctions would be available should an employee be found guilty of bullying, another option is to provide counselling, for both the victim and the accused.
 
“Sometimes, it’s an issue of personality, for example not being able to manage your subordinates, so counselling might be a good option rather than just a disciplinary,” she said. As a matter of best practice, records should be kept of the investigation, as well as documentation of the decision made and any actions taken.