Psychological harassment in the workplace

What is harassment in the workplace?

Moral harassment in the workplace can be defined as any behavior manifested in the form of hostile or unwanted demeanor, verbal comments, actions or gestures, exercised in relation to an employee, by their supervisor, by a subordinate or by an employee who is lower hierarchically. These actions result in deterioration of working conditions as they harm the rights or dignity of the employee. Affecting the employee’s physical or mental health, compromising their professional future and/or creating a hostile environment at work.

One form of harassment in the workplace is mobbing – an act of psychological harassment, manifested not by one, but by several employees towards a colleague. The aggressors do not act independently, but in a group, thus subjecting the victim to intentional and systematic abusive behaviors. The purpose is to discredit, humiliate or even remove the person from the organization. In general, witnesses of such a phenomenon do not respond and do not take attitude, being “victims” of group/peer pressure.

A study conducted in 2013 by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work shows that 58% of the interviewed Romanians said that the number of hours and the amount of work are the main causes of job-related stress. On top of that, almost half of the respondents said that another cause of stress in the workplace is job insecurity or reorganization. Bullying, harassment or unacceptable behaviors at work represent one of the determining causes of stress for almost 30% of Romanians.

The current situation of psychological harassment cases in the workplace – Ministry of Justice

Moral harassment in the workplace is a little discussed phenomenon in Romania, and the legislation on moral harassment is quite vague. The Labor Code, although not mentioning harassment, has provisions regarding how employees should be treated, art. 5 lists in paragraph 2 all forms of discrimination that are prohibited in the workplace; these can be based on “criteria of sex, sexual orientation, genetic characteristics, age, national affiliation, race, color, ethnicity, religion, political choice, social origin, disability, family situation or responsibility, union membership or activity”.

Following an interpellation addressed to the Minister of Justice regarding the award of compensation following psychological harassment cases in the workplace, we received the situation of labor litigation cases judged on the substantive role of the Romanian courts, between 01.01.2015 – 31.03.2018 . Thus, analyzing the statistical data, it appears that 1,094 cases to be resolved were registered in 2015, and in 2016, a number two times higher of another 1,955 cases were registered in the substantive role of the Romanian courts. In 2017, 1,219 employment litigation cases were entered for resolution. Occupying the first places among the causes that are subject of labor laws in Romania are: dismissals, disciplinary sanctions contested by employees and evaluations made on the basis of criteria not found in the individual employment contract, similarly challenged by employees.

What are the consequences of harassment in the workplace?

Moral harassment is a serious issue that our workforce faces and should not be tolerated. Studies show that, in practice, women are subjected to moral harassment in the workplace to a greater extent than men, and that Romanian employees are among the most stressed in the EU. For victims of moral harassment, the consequences can be significant, both physically, mentally and psycho-socially. Stress, symbolic violence, ethical conflicts, poor work organization, conflicting relationships with clients, lack of support at work – all of these can lead to an imbalance between work and personal life or even an aggravation of chronic health problems. Other consequences can be social isolation, family and economic problems caused by absences from work or loss of work. Stress in the workplace leads to insecurity – both in terms of personal life and professional life – and, implicitly, an imbalance of work-life relation.

Moral harassment in the workplace has negative consequences that affect employers, not only employees. The economic performance and profitability of the companies are affected as a result of absenteeism from the workplace, reduction of the productivity rate of employees, as well as by the fact that the dismissal procedure involves wage costs for the employer.

What can you do if you are being harassed at work?

An employee must be able to prove his / her moral abuse. The types of evidence accepted by law include: written evidence (including emails and sms), video recordings, audio recordings, photos and statements. With this evidence, one will be able to notify the Labor Inspection or the National Council for Combating Discrimination.

You can check out the legislative proposal on the moral harassment in the workplace that will provide for the sanctioning and prevention of all forms of discrimination and equal opportunities between women and men here .