Bullying at work

10/01/2018

A recent Supreme Court case set a higher threshold to establish that workplace bullying is taking place, writes Niamh Ebbs in the December 2017 Gazette.

A new benchmark

The Supreme Court recently delivered an eagerly-awaiting judgment in Ruffley v The Board of Management of St Anne’s School. In fact, delivering the Supreme Court’s unanimous judgment, O'Donnell J actually remarked that “this is a case which will set the benchmark for bullying going forward”.

Prior case law

The seminal case on bullying in this jurisdiction prior to this was Quigley v Complex Tooling and Moulding Ltd. In this case, the High Court held that, to be considered bullying, behaviour must be (a) repeated, (b) inappropriate and (c) capable of undermining the plaintiff's dignity at work. Both the trial judge and the Supreme Court held that bullying had taken place, even though the Supreme Court overturned an award for damages from the High Court.

Parsing Ruffley

In Ruffley, The plaintiff was a special needs assistant and had worked for the defendant school for over ten years. An incident with a student, however, prompted a disciplinary process involving several meetings. At one of these meetings, the plaintiff alleged that she was “belittled, humiliated and reduced to tears”.

The plaintiff succeeded in the High Court and was awarded €225,276.39. However, the Court of Appeal, was not satisfied that the plaintiff had met the threshold to establish bullying. The matter was then appealed by the plaintiff to the Supreme Court.

Niamh Ebbs is a solicitor with IPB Insurance. Writing for the Gazette, she analyses the Supreme Court decision, and the higher bar it sets to establish workplace bullying.

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