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‘Bullying stigma may persist’ in legal profession
Pic: Cian Redmond

24 Nov 2022 / wellbeing Print

‘Bullying stigma may persist’ in legal profession

The Law Society Human Rights Committee annual conference at Blackhall Place (18 November) heard that there was both an ethical and a business case for dignity in the workplace.

A stigma about bullying might persist in the legal profession, despite the perception of lawyers being well aware of their rights, the conference heard.

Welcoming attendees, Law Society President Maura Derivan (pictured) said that the conference was developed in response to the Dignity Matters report, published in 2021

Bullying and harassment could have a significant impact on a person’s personal and professional life, she said.

The Law Society had taken significant steps to implement the recommendations outlined in the report, the President added, including the recent publication of the Dignity at Work toolkit.

Sexual harassment ‘still a reality’

Solicitor Máille Brady Bates told the conference that workplace sexual harassment was still a damaging reality, and remained largely unreported, even in the post-MeToo era.

Dealing with it would require a more holistic and proactive approach, she added.

Yseult Freeney (Professor of Organisational Psychology in DCU Business School, and Research Fellow in DCU Anti-Bullying Centre) said that psychologically safe work environments were extremely important.

Bullying and incivility in the workplace varied considerably by industry, she said.

These matters were reported when things had gone too far, Prof Freeney said.

Reduced productivity

Bullying is defined as repeated inappropriate behaviour, directly or indirect, which undermines an individuals’ right to dignity at work. The legal definition to make a case of bullying was very strict, she added.

An individual did not have to be the direct target of bullying to be negatively impacted, the academic said.

Bullying was linked to absenteeism and reduced productivity, she stated.

‘Bad for business’

Human Rights Committee chair Gary Lee said that a healthy work environment was one where colleagues felt able to be ‘upstanders’, rather than ‘bystanders’, when bullying occurred.

Dr Deirdre Curran of University of Galway told the conference that there was a powerful ethical argument against workplace bullying.

She also pointed to extensive research showing that treating people badly or in an uncivil way cost money, and was bad for business and reputation.

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