EMPLOYMENT LAW – Employees obliged to avail of internal grievance procedures in Bullying and Stress claims

The amount of cases seeking compensation from an employer for workplace bullying, harassment or stress has increased in recent years and several judgments from the High Court have indicated how such a claim might sink or swim.

Employers are obliged under Health and Safety legislation to take reasonable care in preventing bullying and stress-related injuries from occurring in the workplace.

However, if an employee does have a grievance with regard to bullying or stress, they have a duty to alert their employer to it or face the consequences later.

In particular, the failure of an employee to avail of any internal grievance procedures may result in any case they take against their employer being dismissed.

This principle was emphasised by the Court in the case of O’Toole v County Offaly VEC where the plaintiff had taken a case of alleged bullying, harassment and stress against her employer.

The Court ultimately refused to accept the plaintiff’s evidence that she had been bullied or harassed. In any event the Court found that she also failed to bring her grievance to the school board, a failure that would also have proved determinative.

The Court held that she was obliged ‘to make such complaints and to have them properly dealt with under the appropriate cur¬rent procedures, by the defendants, as employers’. If there had been a failure by the employer to properly deal with the situation after having it brought to its attention, then compensation would be appropriate.

The High Court, in considering whether an employee is entitled to damages for stress or bullying, will consider the conduct of both the employer and the employee.

If the employer is found to have acted reasonably and dealt with the complaints appropriately, they will have satisfied their obligations under the law.