Mobbing at work


Mobbing: what is it?

According to Article 94. of the Polish Labour Code

Mobbing indicates actions or behaviours concerning an employee or directed at an employee consisting of persistent and long-lasting harassment against or bullying of an employee, evoking low esteem of professional usefulness, causing or aiming at the humiliation of an employee, isolating them, or eliminating from the co-worker team.

However, not all conflicts and lack of sympathy among teammates are synonymous with mobbing. The Labour Code makes it clear that harassment must be long-lasting and persistent. The burden of proof rests with the victim. An employee abused by a superior often stays silent because of the fear of dismissal. It’s not the only reason. Mobbing at work will be perceived differently by those directly affected by it and colleagues and observers standing aside.

Effects of mobbing – consequences for the employer and the mobber

In the corporate environment, it is the employer who is responsible for the use of mobbing. The employer is obliged to counteract mobbing. They are liable to a fine or compensation for the victim if they fail to do it.

The owner of the company has the right to punish the mobber by:

  •  disciplinary dismissal, material liability;
  •  loss of bonuses, reduction of remuneration, receipt of benefits;
  • transfer to another position, taking away business privileges.

Even though the employer is responsible for mobbing in the company (even if they didn’t know about it), the mobber also bears consequences. In extreme cases, mobbing may be considered a criminal offence prosecuted under the provisions of the Criminal Code. 

How to recognize mobbing at work?

  • Persistence – meaning that troubling behaviours are constantly repeated, stretched in time, and inevitable (from the victim’s point of view),
  • Durability – the activities should last long enough to evoke consequences like lower self-esteem.

Both aspects should occur at the same time.

Every situation that bears the hallmarks of mobbing at work should be examined individually. One should focus on the circumstances. Although even one-time behaviour towards an employee may bring consequences characteristic of mobbing, this phenomenon is indicated by intensified actions with a long-term impact.

Types of mobbing

Some argue that only lower-level workers are victims of mobbing at work. But it can’t be associated only with a professional position. Such situations occur on many levels, and violations of equal treatment at work should be assessed on each side.

Basic types of mobbing:

a. vertical mobbing – occurs when the person mobbing is the victim’s immediate superior;

b. vertical mobbing – mobbing is used by the president of the company themself and uses their power to harass employees in lower positions;

c. vertical mobbing – applies when a subordinate or a group of subordinates abuses their immediate superior.

d. horizontal mobbing – is harassment of colleagues occupying the same level of the employee hierarchy. Usually, it occurs in one team, but sometimes it extends to different positions.

Othertypes of mobbing

Clarifying the various manifestations of mobbing according to the employee hierarchy is not enough. It is also important to discern one of the most dangerous types of this phenomenon. According to the visibility of harassment, we can name two basic types of psychological mobbing.

Direct mobbing involves personally harassing a victim face to face. The mobber does not conceal their intentions, making it clear that they consider another employee to be worse. All forms of humiliation often take place in front of colleagues. Being humiliated at work by a colleague or supervisor in this way is much easier to prove. All signs of such abuse are evident. In this situation, it is worth the effort to persuade colleagues/observers to confirm the victim’s version.

Indirect mobbing is unfortunately often overlooked when settling mobbing cases. It’s a dangerous form of abuse at work because of its hidden form. It involves acting behind the back of a completely unconscious victim who cannot react early enough because they have no idea of the situation. The actions include spreading rumours, snitching, persuading others to exclude the victim and hindering their work. A mobber targets a person without letting them know something is wrong. At the same time, they spread rumours about a victim and humiliate them among colleagues.

Phases of mobbing

Mental harassment at work usually increases gradually, leading to a critical point. The division into individual phases of mobbing may help to react faster when one notices that something wrong is happening around. The ability to act quickly is the most effective way to combat mobbing. Thanks to the immediate reaction it’s possible to prevent a permanent deterioration of the atmosphere in the company and reduce the consequences of the harassment.

The early phase of mobbing

The early phase consists of a transition from a simple conflict to a desire to destroy another person. Preventing mobbing is harder than combating the existing phenomenon. The early stage of mobbing can be a result of a badly ended conflict, jealousy or fear for a position. The first signs worth paying attention to are reluctance to talk, unpleasant remarks, unreasonable pointing out mistakes and omitting the victim in team integration, and disinformation.

The main problem with the early phase of mobbing at work is that it’s difficult to distinguish it from a lack of sympathy. Nevertheless, this is the best time to talk and resolve the conflict amicably.

Conflict escalation phase

The conflict escalation is the moment when the unpleasant remarks about the victim begin to circulate among colleagues. The mobber broadly comments on the disadvantages of the victim, accuses them of incompetence, and mocks or arranges for everyone to meet after work, except for the victim. During the conflict escalation phase, the victim of mobbing begins to feel stressed, have doubts about their value and take up an unequal fight against accusations. They often encounter indifference from colleagues who, wanting to work in peace, won’t take the risk of being a new target of the abuser. Such behaviour can lead to mental health problems for the victim and spoil the good atmosphere in the workplace. The escalation of the conflict is also the last moment in which the fight against mobbing is relatively simple.

Advanced phase of mobbing at work

It’s a hazardous situation that must be prevented at all costs by employees and supervisors. The person subjected to the mobbing becomes the official “scapegoat” in the company while the mobber goes unpunished. A constantly humiliated victim of mobbing is considered an incompetent employee who can’t perform any task.

Because of the loss of self-esteem, the humiliated employee begins to believe that everything others say is true. Psychological mobbing in a worst-case scenario can lead to a nervous breakdown and major health problems..

The last stage of mobbing

This stage is a rare result of the extraordinary passivity of other employees. In extreme cases, mobbing can manifest itself in sexual harassment, physical violence or forgery that suggests the uselessness or stupidity of the victim. It is also possible that the harassment at work by a superior or co-worker transfers from professional to private life. Such severe prolonged abuse can lead to serious mental problems. Some mobbing victims may face the consequences of such actions for the rest of their lives. 

Methods of operation of mobbers:

Isolation – This is one of the most effective and, at once, hurtful tactics used by mobbers. Putting co-workers on the side is called social ostracism. It inflicts convincing others to deliberately ignore an employee who is supposed to feel like an unwanted and unnecessary part of the team.

Obstructing the work – The phenomenon often seems to be mere distrust or aversion to the employee. However, prolonged obstruction of work, which intends to lead to the dismissal, is another mobbing tactic. Examples include excluding from valuable information and continuous reporting of failures, deliberate misinformation during training, and assigning responsibilities against competencies.

Humiliation and ridicule – this tactic is often used by people who fear for their position and want to exclude potential competition. Mobbers use every situation to criticise or ridicule a colleague, while not allowing them to defend themselves. In addition, they try to mask all the achievements of the victim, focusing all the attention on their disadvantages. They also try to assign them tasks below competencies, convincing them that they can’t cope even with it, which lowers the self-esteem of the victim.

How to document mobbing?

Unfortunately, the proof of mobbing is on the side of the employee affected by harassment. The conversation with the employer, labour inspectorate or court should be supported by documented examples of mobbing. Gathering evidence is not a simple task, especially when it involves recording or eavesdropping on a mobber. Recording a colleague without their knowledge is disputable. Formally recording someone without their consent in the workplace is illegal. In practice, some courts allow recordings of the mobber as evidence in cases against them.

However, mobbing is often associated with, for example, cutting salaries, threats, and frequent overtime, and these activities are much easier to document. It is also important to archive conversations on private and business messengers. That way, you can get indisputable evidence of harassment. Convincing witnesses of mobbing to testify on your behalf in court or to confirm your words at a meeting with your supervisor is another way to obtain additional evidence.

How to protect yourself from mobbing?

Dialogue is the best way to resolve any conflicts. When you notice the first symptoms of mobbing, it is worth trying to talk to the perpetrator. This way you let them know that you see what they are doing. You can scare a mobber who doesn’t expect a confrontation. If the dialogue with the mobber is ineffective, it may be helpful to talk directly to your supervisor or the CEO. Under labour law, mobbing should be combated in particular by the employer. In this situation, signalling the problem should trigger actions that draw consequences for the mobber.

If the perpetrator is a superior/president, it is worth talking to other colleagues from the team and creating a common front against an unfair employer. Working in a group makes you feel the support of other people affected by the problem. To ensure that the perpetrator is punished, it is necessary to turn to institutions and organisations that help t fight against the unfair treatment of employees. In some cases, the lawsuit for harassment may also be replaced by criminal proceedings.

Mobbing – Criminal Code

Polish criminal law does not treat mobbing in the same way as the Labour Code. This does not mean that violation of the employee’s rights cannot become a crime that is proceeded according to the Criminal Code. For example, a one-time threat to an employee is not persistent harassment, but the victim may rely on the provisions contained in Article 218 of the Criminal Code.

Whoever while performing activities in the field of labour law and social security, maliciously or persistently violates the employee’s rights arising from the employment relationship or social insurance, is subject to a fine, restriction of liberty or imprisonment for up to 2 years.

In this case, the provisions apply only to employers or persons acting on their behalf. The purpose of the perpetrator of such an offence is to humiliate, harm or inconvenience the employee..

Mobbing at work – where to report it?

All employees, regardless of whether they are a victim of mobbing or a witness, should know where to report mobbing. A person who has encountered the problem of harassment may inform the trade unions in the company or submit a notification to the National Labour Inspectorate. Notifying mobbing in writing may give rise to control of the whole company. A company that ignores harassment signals can get a fine, and its representatives are forced to make the necessary changes to address harassment in the workplace. In complicated cases, you can send a letter to the Ombudsman or contact the police by filing a report of suspicion of an offence.

Compensation for mobbing – how to get it?

A victim of mobbing who has decided to resist harassment in the workplace can count on something more than the consequences for the perpetrator of mobbing. Any employee who has terminated an employment contract in connection with mobbing is entitled to compensation for mobbing. For this to happen, it must be ensured that the contract is terminated in writing and that the termination of the employment relationship is caused by harassment. In this situation, the employee is entitled to compensation, which cannot be lower than the minimum remuneration for work in a given year (the upper limit has not been specified by regulations).

You can also get compensation for mobbing if you prove that long-term harassment in the workplace has led to mental or physical health problems. Medical records should then be submitted.