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Bullying and harassment are terms used interchangeably, and often refer to something which has happened to an individual which is unwelcome, unwarranted and causes a detrimental effect. This may occur, for example, via face-to-face contact, written communications, visual images, email, or telephone. There are many definitions of these terms, but often they are characterised by offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, or by an abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, denigrates, or injures the recipient.
Most people will agree on extreme cases of bullying and harassment, but there can be less obvious examples too. For example, behaviour that is considered bullying or harassment by one person may be considered firm management by another. Bullying or harassing actions can range from unintentional misunderstandings and lack of awareness through to deliberate and malicious acts. Recipients of bullying or harassment may struggle to decipher the extent and intentions of behaviour directed towards them, and they may appear to over-react to a seemingly trivial situation which is ultimately the ‘last straw’ following a series of incidents. There may be fear of retribution, which also extends to witnesses.
Harassment has been defined as unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual. This may relate to age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. There is criminal legislation present which enables either: the recipient of harassment or those who are witness to this or associated with the recipient and are therefore affected, to pursue a criminal case.
Bullying and harassment may have the effect of making the recipient or those associated with the recipient feel anxious, stressed, frustrated, humiliated and de-motivated. This may have self-confidence, self-esteem, and social consequences, and may lead to mental or physical health issues, absence from work, loss of income and reputational outcomes.
Bullying or harassment is not only unacceptable on moral grounds, but if unchecked or poorly handled, this may have consequences for the organisation. These may include poor morale and colleague/peer relations, loss of respect for peers, supervisors or managers, poor performance or productivity, absence or resignations, damage to organisational or industry reputation and court cases and financial outcomes. It is therefore in every organisation’s interest to promote a safe, healthy, and fair actual or remote environment in which people can conduct their work.
Those feeling they are being bullied or harassed, or other individuals affected by this, may formally notify their organisation and/or they may take legal criminal or civil action. If an individual is considering taking legal criminal or civil action, the IVBA recommend that they seek advice from a suitable advisor
In defining a bullying and harassment policy, the Irish Veterinary Behaviour Association (referred to as IVBA within this policy) are committed to ensuring a safe and supportive environment for its members, and to fairly, objectively, and sensitively investigating any complaints of bullying or harassment made by its members or those witness to or affected by bullying or harassment. The IVBA recognises that deliberate acts of bullying and harassment are unlawful and will also not be tolerated on ethical and duty-of-care grounds. Bullying and harassment may be treated by the IVBA as a disciplinary offence in accordance with its stated complaints procedure. The IVBA will provide support to those reporting bullying or harassment, where possible. This may involve testimonies being heard in private and separately at conduct meetings and directing individuals to appropriate human counselling organisations.
The organisational framework of the IVBA means that bullying or harassment between members is most likely to occur via (although is not limited to) the IVBA forum, remote or virtual online communications, external media communications, in-person communications at industry conferences or other meetings, or between or in relation to individual members working in proximity. The IVBA bullying and harassment policy applies to all forms of communication.
Discussions and communications between IVBA members are encouraged, in line with IVBA’s supportive and information-sharing ethos. IVBA members may engage in discussions with each other and provide fair, constructive and justifiable feedback, but members rights to fair and ethical treatment should always be maintained.
Polite disagreement with viewpoints between IVBA members, and related debate, is acceptable providing this is justifiable and all members receive fair and ethical treatment. Disagreements and debates should be conducted without personal criticism or innuendo and with consideration for the wellbeing and self-esteem of the individual being disagreed with.
Discussions and communications between IVBA members should always consider confidentiality. Private, individual communications should not be discussed outside of this private remit without explicit consent, and IVBA forum discussion content should not be shared outside of the IVBA forum without explicit consent of those involved.
IVBA members should consider the fair and ethical treatment of other IVBA members. Confidentiality, as appropriate, should similarly be considered if IVBA members discuss other IVBA members outside of IVBA platforms.
IVBA members must refrain from discriminating against or making comments about other IVBA members that demean them related to age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs (including political), pregnancy or maternity status, and marriage or civil partnership status.
Bullying or harassment complaints should be directed to the IVBA Secretary. This should be marked as private and confidential.
The IVBA committee will then consider the complaint details. If the complaint relates to one or more members of the IVBA committee, those member(s) will be excluded from the complaint handling. Other IVBA committee members may then consider the complaint, or external appropriate individuals will be instructed to arbitrate. The precise complaint details will be ascertained, documented by the complaint handler(s) and submitted to the complainant for agreement within 14 days of full complaint details being received by the IVBA Secretary. The complainant will be asked to confirm agreement of the documented complaint within 7 days. Disclosure of the nature of any complaint against a IVBA member to another IVBA member, or outside of IVBA, shall constitute a breach of confidence and may be subject to separate disciplinary action.
If the complainant refers to independent parties who may be able to support the complaint, the IVBA complaint handler(s) will clarify the validity of these.
The IVBA complaints procedure will then be followed as detailed in the IVBA Code of Conduct.