Mobbing - a modern form of discrimination in a work place

Stress and pressure are an integral part of many professions. However, if they are accompanied by regular harassment, threatening or ridicule in a work place, the problem becomes much more serious. What is mobbing in a work place? How to recognise and prevent it?

A lesser person?

The term mobbing comes from a mob, which means a crowd or a rabble. A hostile, systematic behaviour towards workers has been observed and described as mobbing by a Swedish psychologist  Heinz Leymann.

The occurrence of mobbing is quite a new one, which creates additional difficulties when it comes to providing a uniform definition for it. It is, however, possible to identify some characteristic features of the issue. Mobbing towards workers may be shown in more than just unjustified criticisms, public humiliation and discredit. It may also be demonstrated through unfair treatment in the work place (for example by the necessity to work in unacceptable conditions - in the cold or in the dark, by giving impossible deadlines, by giving pointless tasks) or through direct harassment (phone terror, offensive emails, inappropriate jokes).

In case of mobbing it's important to remember about another crucial feature: recurrence. One of the most important elements of mobbing's definition is stubbornness and the long-term character of the actions against the worker - stresses Michal Gozdzik, legal adviser, partner responsible for Employment and Anti-discrimination legislation practice in Walczynski Kalinowski & Partners, founder of Polish Anti-discrimination Legislation Society. It means, that one-time occurrences cannot be classed as mobbing, regardless of whether they match the other criteria of behaviour that is against the law. The Employment Code does not specify the exact time that needs to pass in order to be able to automatically class a given behaviour as mobbing.

Mobbing can be encountered not only in case of giving a worker too many tasks while limiting his abilities to perform them in practical terms (active mobbing). Also ignoring an employee systematically should be seen as mobbing, leaving the worker out while assigning tasks, ignoring their remarks etc (passive mobbing).

The guilty party - the employer or the employee?

The causes of mobbing can be found on many platforms. One of them is a difficult economical situation and a high level of unemployment. A difficult situation increases the tension in many businesses. On the other band, potential problems with finding a new job force the worker to forbear the criticisms and the humiliation.

Mobbing can also be encouraged by an inappropriate organisation of work within a business. It is a well known fact that conflicts in a work place are common. Unclear work regulations, a lack of unambiguous employee review system or of regulations dealing with the allocation of tasks may cause frustration on both sides - the employer's as well as the employees'. In addition, a lack of unambiguous rules and regulations makes it easier for a mobber to apply unfair practices. It is much harder to prove discrimination in terms of applying for a promotion, if there are no clear work regulations and defined conditions, whose completion enables a worker to receive such promotion.

It is important to remember that the force driving, and at the same time controlling, any business is the management. Occurrence of discrimination and disregard towards some employees in a work place depends to a big extend on them. Providing appropriate working conditions and ensuring a positive atmosphere in the business will help to avoid such issues. Maintaining an atmosphere of fear and threats can often be a source of poor relations between the employees and their supervisors – says Michal Gozdzik. Excessive discipline, combined with a lasting feeling of danger of professional repercussions may lead to an employee retaining information about worrying symptoms of irregularities in the work place. One of the factors, that can contribute to the occurrence of signs of mobbing in a work place, can also be avoiding taking responsibility for the subordinates by the management.

Another key issue is the fact, that mobbing occurs not only in the relations between a supervisor and an employee. Discrimination, ridicule or unfair treatment may occur between colleagues, and in more extreme cases even between a worker from a given business and their client.

How to assert your rights?

The full responsibility for mobbing in a work place belongs to the employer. It is also true in situations, when the supervisor was not a party in the issue (mobber) and even when they were not aware of the occurrence of mobbing in their company. In all of the above situations the employer may be held responsible in a court of law.

A worker who has been a victim of mobbing may assert his rights in a court. However, it's important to bear in mind that the dissolution of the employment contract on the basis of systematic harassment provides the legal grounds for bringing suit. Therefore asserting a person's rights in court cannot occur in case of continued employment with the accused employer. It is also crucial to know, that the responsibility of proving mobbing lies with the worker. An example of such proof could be indicating in the written dissolution of the employment contract specific actions comprising mobbing, which were the direct cause of giving the position up. Period of notice does not apply to an employee who terminates the agreement on the basis of mobbing. Negligence of basic responsibilities regarding preventing mobbing is enough of a reason to terminate the contract immediately.

An employer held responsible on these basis, is responsible for actual harm done to the the aggrieved party, as well as their loses. In addition, the employer may be held responsible for mobbing's influence on the employee's mental state. The employee can be granted compensation on both basis. It's important to remember that compensation on the basis of civil law regulations is warranted usually on the basis of non-material harm, therefore it compensates harm of a non-financial character, while according to the regulations of the Employment Code a compensation for harm sustained through mobbing is due only if mobbing caused an upset of the worker's health, the compensation for which includes both financial and non-financial consequences of the harm done –  stresses Michal Gozdzik.

In case of pursuing compensation on the basis of mobbing an employee can claim compensation no lower than the minimum wage. All compensation should be set at a reasonable level and compensate for the harm done to the aggrieved party to the maximum possible extend.

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Comments 1
ana :
To straszny problem. Kiedyś pracowałam w firmie w której był mobbing. Szefowie wyżej postawieni nie chcieli tego widzieć, nie interesował ich problem, uważali że rozwiązanie powinno nastąpić na linii konfliktu, czyli jak w moim przypadku pracownik - bezpośredni kierownik. Dowiedziałam się o tym jak rzuciłam pracę. Dyrektor powiedział, że powinnam sama coś z tym zrobić. Ale to było nie możliwe, bo jak? no chyba, że ktoś by potrafił
October 14, 2013 at 2:51 PM