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Mobbing in the workplace

What is mobbing? What conditions must be met for particular behaviour to be classified as mobbing against another person? Who is responsible for mobbing at work? What are the rights and claims of victims of mobbing?

What mobbing is

Mobbing means actions or behaviour relating to a worker or directed against a worker, consisting in persistent and prolonged harassment or intimidation of that person. Mobbing takes place when these actions or this behaviour causes the worker to underestimate his or her professional suitability and causes that person to become subjected to humiliation or ridicule as well as to be isolated or excluded from a team of co-workers or is intended to do so.

Mobbing may take the form of passive behaviour.

Example

Worker Anna is ignored by her superior, who treats her as if she did not exist during meetings with her and her co-workers. Ms Anna is the only person to whom the superior does not assign any tasks and with whom he does not speak. He also does not react to her questions and opinions about ideas put forward by her co-workers.

The perpetrator’s actions or behaviour must take place repeatedly.

There is no specific list of behaviours that will be interpreted as mobbing. Every mobber acts in his or her own way and mobbing make take unprecedented forms. Mobbing may also consist in a combination of different behaviours of the perpetrator.

Example

Mobber Adam has publicly called his subordinate Karolina ‘a worthless worker’ for a year. During staff meetings, Adam has repeatedly said that ‘it’s a good thing Karolina is at the bottom of the ladder as it’s the only thing that saves her from demotion’. Adam ridicules Karolina’s presentations and reports and makes loud comments about her clothes, looks and behaviour while they are being presented.

How employers can prevent mobbing

Employers are required to prevent mobbing, i.e. above all:

  • respond to behaviour that may be classified as mobbing at their companies
  • take measures to prevent the occurrence of mobbing.

Employers can prevent mobbing in different ways. They may tailor anti-mobbing solutions to their companies’ needs and the specific nature of their activities.

The solutions for preventing mobbing most frequently chosen by companies include:

  • anti-mobbing procedures
  • anti-mobbing committees
  • representatives for combating mobbing
  • anti-mobbing training courses for workers and managerial staff.

From the point of view of the labour law, the employer is the only entity responsible for the occurrence of mobbing at the establishment. This applies both to situations in which the employer himself or herself is the mobber and to situations in which another person is the mobber.

The actual mobber, if that person is not the employer, may bear:

  • criminal liability – if the mobbing behaviour constitutes an offence, as is the case with unlawful threats, violation of bodily integrity and stalking
  • civil liability – if the victim decides, for example, to bring an action against the perpetrator for the infringement of personal rights.

Rights and claims of victims of mobbing

A worker who considers that he or she has been a victim of mobbing will be entitled to terminate the employment contract, either with or without notice, on those grounds.

The worker subjected to mobbing may also remain at the company and resort to anti-mobbing instruments introduced by the employer, including reporting the mobbing under an anti-mobbing procedure (if such a procedure is in place at the company). At this point, the employer usually initiates an internal investigation to determine whether the worker’s claims are justified and true and the incidences described by that person may be regarded as mobbing behaviour. The worker’s claims may also be examined by an anti-mobbing committee or a representative for combatting mobbing, appointed at the company.
Regardless of what rights the employer gave to workers to fulfil the obligation to prevent mobbing at the company, the labour law provides for two types of claims that workers who have been victims of mobbing may bring before a court:

  • damages for mobbing
  • compensation for mobbing.

Important The worker does not need to give up his or her job to bring any of these claims. The worker is also permitted to claim both a specific amount of damages and a specific amount of compensation as part of the same proceedings for the damage suffered.

Damages for a worker who has been a victim of mobbing or has terminated the employment contract as a result of mobbing are awarded to compensate for the damage suffered by the worker as a result of the mobbing. The damage will comprise losses suffered by the worker and lost profits. There are no limits as to what may be classified as workers’ losses. In practice, workers frequently cite the following losses as part of proceedings:

  • bills for appointments with specialists, for example psychologists and psychiatrists, if mobbing forced them to seek professional help
  • bills for medicines prescribed by medical specialists
  • lost bonuses or awards which the mobber refused them as part of the mobbing.

The legislation guarantees the minimum amount of damages – in no case may it be lower than the minimum remuneration determined under separate provisions.

If a worker terminates the employment contract without notice as a result of mobbing, that person may seek from the employer damages for both the mobbing and the termination of the contract due to a serious breach of the basic obligations towards workers by the employer.

In order for a worker to claim financial compensation for mobbing from the employer, that person must prove that his or her health has been impaired as a result of the mobbing. In accordance with the case-law, health impairment must be medically certified. This means that the court will appoint an expert, for example a doctor, to establish this as part of the proceedings.

As the damage for which the worker is entitled to financial compensation is a type of non-material damage, the worker will estimate its value and the court will examine the circumstances presented by the worker in substantiation.

Example

Worker Jolanta C. claims that her marriage has fallen apart as a result of stress and tension caused by mobbing at the hands of her superior. As part of the proceedings, Jolanta provided evidence that her superior’s behaviour had been at the bottom of these events. As a result, Jolanta C. demanded a specific amount of financial compensation. After analysing all the evidence, the court concluded that Jolanta C. was right, but decided that the amount of compensation she was seeking for the damage was too high and awarded her a lower amount.

Please note The employer is the entity that will be sued by a worker in connection with mobbing. It is the employer who will have to bear the costs of damages or compensation if the proceedings are lost.

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