Everybody knows the term, everybody knows somebody who has been “harassed” at some point. But what does harassment at work really imply and how can you defend yourself?
Harassment – a widespread phenomenon
In the field of employment law, harassment is the systematic hostility, intimidation, bullying, humiliation or discrimination of workers among each other or by the employer, and when those actions are not unique but methodical, justifying the consideration of the whole professional environment as hostile. Often however, the situation is misjudged, as not every conflict situation can be qualified as harassment; it is only considered as harassment when it is not the working behaviour of the worker that is criticized, but his/her personality, and in a purposeful manner.
The legal consequences
Harassment is a violation of your personal rights. The employer has a duty of care and is therefore required to protect the employee concerned. That’s why, in each case, he must take the required and appropriate measures in order to guarantee this protection. This can be a spatial separation of the employees concerned, as well as labour-law related sanctions against the offending employee, i.e. a warning letter or dismissal. If the violation of personal rights is particularly serious, the employee concerned can seek damages for pain and suffering and compensation claims, in cases where harassment is based on personal characteristics, such as age, gender or ethnic origin, according to the General Equal Treatment Act, may arise.
The limits of jurisdiction in labour matters
The judicial enforcement of claims due to harassment is not always successful. In order for the court to check if there is a hostile harassment environment, the employee must explain in detail all actions and behaviours on the basis of which he/she substantiates his/her harassment accusations (and if necessary he/she also has to produce evidence). This is only possible if the employee has kept a so-called harassment diary over a long period. Furthermore, from the incidents described, it has to be clear that there is not a general, interpersonal conflict at work, but a targeted attack against the employee’s personality. It is for this reason that suing against harassment is often unsuccessful.
Who offers support and help?
As legal enforcement is difficult, it may be useful for the worker concerned to seek extra-judicial help. Personal conversations with those concerned, also within the framework of coaching and mediation proceedings, can substantially improve the situation, and the works council or staff council can also prove helpful. Certain companies have their own advice centres who can offer their help.
I would be pleased to advise you extensively in all matters concerning harassment and in general in all other employment law matters.