Workplace Mobbing 

Mobing na Poslu

Workplace Mobbing represents one of the unfortunately common practices among employers in Serbia, characterized by its perceived difficulty to prove.

However, the experience of the Pekić Law Office indicates that in cases of mobbing, an even greater issue than proving the misconduct is the reporting process itself. 

Official data on the number of harassment at work complaints in Serbia is not available, but European Union statistics suggest that only 1 in 7 employees dare to report workplace harassment.

Considering this statistic, it becomes clear that reporting mobbing is exceedingly rare not only in Serbia but globally. 

The reasons for this reluctance often include fear of repercussions for those who report abuse, lack of trust in institutions meant to intervene, and insufficient awareness of rights and protection procedures against mobbing. 

To reduce the stigma around reporting mobbing and to support you in the process of protecting yourself from workplace harassment, we have compiled this comprehensive guide that will address all your questions about this phenomenon in the workplace.

1. Mobbing Law

The definition of workplace bullying is found in Article 6 of the Law on Prevention of Harassment at Work.

Below is the original text, followed by an analysis of its components and the conditions that must be met for behavior to be considered as mobbing:

"Harassment, within the meaning of this law, is any active or passive behavior towards an employee or group of employees by the employer, which is repeated and aims at or results in the violation of dignity, reputation, personal and professional integrity, health, the position of the employee, causing fear or creating a hostile, humiliating or offensive environment, worsening working conditions, or leading the employee to isolate themselves or voluntarily terminate their employment contract or other agreement.

Harassment, within the meaning of this law, also includes inciting or inducing others to behave as described in paragraph 1 of this article."

2. Meaning of Mobbing

What does this rather extensive legal provision mean?

Firstly, mobbing encompasses both active and passive behavior—whether by the employer or by colleagues towards an employee.

Mobbing between co-workers in equal positions within a company is termed horizontal mobbing while mobbing by a superior over a subordinate is called vertical mobbing.

Both active and passive behaviors that qualify as mobbing manifest in various forms. Insults, threats, physical attacks, or unwarranted criticism would constitute active mobbing, whereas inaction or ignoring an employee's needs (such as deliberately excluding them from important information, meetings, or decisions) would be considered passive mobbing.

Furthermore, for behavior to be classified as mobbing, it must be continuous or repeated. 

A single incident would not qualify as mobbing.

The third element of the mobbing definition is the aim or result of the behavior. In other words, mobbing must lead to one of the legally specified consequences or injuries to the employee. 

For more on this, refer to the next section on examples of workplace mobbing.

3. Examples of Workplace Mobbing 

Workplace mobbing can take many forms, ranging from subtle to overt. Here are some examples: 

Dignity Violation: If someone at work has ever mocked your appearance or way of speaking, this would be a classic example of dignity violation.

 

Reputation Injury: Spreading rumors within the company about a specific employee being incompetent, even though it's untrue, falls under harming their reputation and professional integrity.

Attacks on Character: When a superior unjustly accuses you of mistakes you didn't make, continuously questioning your professional integrity, this can also constitute mobbing.

  • Physical or Mental Health Issues: Constant criticism and pressure from a boss to the point where it affects your sleep, leaves you exhausted, and causes anxiety would be considered mobbing.
  • Undermining Position: Being transferred to unsuitable positions relative to your qualifications without valid reasons is another form of mobbing.
  • Fear Induction: Creating a hostile environment where employees fear reporting mobbing because they believe they might lose their jobs is a common example.
  • Humiliating Environment: Constant criticism, jokes at one's expense, or exclusion from team activities are classic examples of creating a humiliating environment.
  • Worsening Working Conditions: Assigning an unmanageable workload that requires overtime work to complete on time is another way of worsening working conditions.
  • Inducing Resignation: Creating unbearable working conditions through constant humiliation with the intent of making the employee resign voluntarily.
  • If you recognize any of these behaviors in your work environment, seek legal assistance from an employment lawyer experienced in handling mobbing cases. Taking action promptly is crucial to protect your rights and well-being in the workplace.

4. Mobbing procedure

The first question that arises when initiating proceedings in cases of workplace mobbing against an employee is: Who should the mobbing be reported to at work?

The answer to this question will differ depending on whether the mobbing was perpetrated by the employer or a responsible person within the organization (such as mobbing by a director) or by another employee.

If the mobbing was committed by another employee, the procedure against mobbing begins by submitting a detailed request to the employer where the mobbing occurred (not necessarily directly to them; typically, this is done through the employer's HR department).

Recognizing that an employee experiencing mobbing may feel fear in initiating this request independently, the legislator has provided an alternative option for someone else to submit the request on their behalf. This can include:

  • Union representative
  • Person responsible for occupational health and safety
  • Representative for employee safety and health, or 
  • Occupational health and safety committee

Note: If you wish for any of the above-listed individuals to report mobbing on your behalf, it's important to provide them with written consent.

If the mobbing was committed by the employer or a responsible person within the organization (mobbing by a director), then the employee does not have to (but can if they choose to) initiate proceedings with them. Instead, they may directly initiate proceedings in the competent court.

1. Mobbing Form

We found a form online issued by the Union of Non-Medical Workers in Healthcare of Serbia, which you can view here.

For a form that suits your specific job and the circumstances of your mobbing case, seek assistance from an employment lawyer specializing in labor law.

2. Mediation Procedure Between Victim and Perpetrator

If your situation requires mediation, the process will proceed as follows:

Upon receiving your request, the employer must propose mediation as a means to resolve the dispute within 3 days.

You will participate in selecting the mediator alongside a representative of the employer and the employee accused of mobbing. You have 3 days to make your choice. If you fail to choose a mediator within this time, the employer will notify you of the procedure's failure.

Mediation is expedited and must conclude within 8 days from the appointment of the mediator, or within 30 days if justified reasons for extension exist. The process is confidential, meaning all information gathered during mediation will be kept secret.

The mediator may conduct joint or separate meetings with the parties involved in the mobbing. They can suggest possible solutions to the dispute but cannot impose a solution on you.

Ultimately, mediation concludes with a written agreement between the parties. 

Exceptions include cases where mediation fails, or the parties decide to withdraw from the process. In such instances, you will receive a notice of the procedure's failure.

3. Mediation Agreement

As previously established, a successful mediation process concludes with the drafting of a written agreement.

This agreement must include measures aimed at ceasing the behaviors constituting mobbing and may also contain recommendations for the employer to prevent the recurrence of mobbing.

For example, a measure could be an obligation for the perpetrator of mobbing to immediately cease all forms of verbal abuse and humiliating behavior towards the victim of mobbing. A recommendation could be for the company to organize mandatory training for all employees on recognizing and preventing mobbing.

4. Statute of Limitations for Mobbing

The right to file a claim for protection against mobbing with the employer expires six months from the day when the mobbing occurred.

Note: The statute of limitations does not run during the period for filing the request and conducting the mediation process.

5. Procedure for Determining Employee Responsibility: What Happens When Mediation Fails?

If the mediation process is unsuccessful, the employer then initiates a procedure to determine the employee's responsibility for violating work discipline.

In this procedure, the employer can impose one of the following three measures on the employee:

  • Written warning
  • Suspension from work without pay for a period of four to 30 days, or
  • Permanent transfer to another work environment.

The employer also determines measures to prevent harassment, known as protective measures.

Therefore, if there is an immediate danger to the health or life of the employee, the employer is obligated to impose measures such as transferring the employee to another work environment or suspending them with pay.

It's important to know that you, as an employee, have the legal right to refuse work if there is an immediate danger to your health or life, without fear of losing your salary or being terminated. 

Your salary is guaranteed in this case, and if your actions lead to termination, it would likely be considered unlawful dismissal, for which you could file a lawsuit against the employer.

If you are experiencing mobbing at work, do not hesitate to seek assistance from labor inspection, unions, relevant judicial authorities, or an employment lawyer.

5. Mobbing Lawsuit

As previously established, in cases where mediation with the employer fails or when you are accusing the employer/director of mobbing, you have the option to file a lawsuit in the competent court.

The deadline for filing the lawsuit is 6 months from the last act of mobbing (if you did not initiate mediation), or 15 days from receiving notice of the failed mediation procedure/decision on determining the employee's responsibility.

Through the lawsuit, you can request the court to determine that you have suffered from mobbing, to prohibit the perpetrator from further mobbing behaviors, and to order them to remedy the consequences of the harassment and compensate you for all material and non- material damages suffered. You can also request that the court publish the judgment in a public gazette.

Court proceedings for mobbing lawsuits are expedited.

6. How to prove mobbing in the workplace?

One of the positives of initiating a legal proceeding for workplace mobbing is that the burden of proof that mobbing occurred is not solely on you.

Namely, the individual claiming to be a victim of mobbing in a lawsuit only needs to make it plausible that the harassment took place, which means you only need to present arguments and indications supporting this claim instead of providing direct evidence. 

This can significantly ease the process of proving mobbing, as you won't necessarily need specific documentation or witnesses to initiate legal action. However, although the burden of proof is not entirely yours, it's still important to have certain evidence or witnesses that can support your claim, as this will strengthen your position during the legal proceedings.

On the other hand, the employer bears the burden of proving that no harassment occurred, which inherently weakens their position from the outset.

Despite this legal provision that makes it easier for employees to prove workplace mobbing, practical challenges still exist in proving this phenomenon.

What can increase your chances of success in legal proceedings for workplace harassment are:

  • Written communication traces with the harasser
  • Written reports on job tasks
  • Documented meetings
  • Internal company/organization documentation
  • Testimonies from colleagues or other individuals who witnessed the harassment or have relevant information
  • Medical documentation confirming the psychological or physical consequences of mobbing
  • Other relevant evidence that can indicate that harassment indeed occurred, which your labor law attorney can help you identify.

7. Mobbing penalty

The Law on Prevention of Harassment at Work stipulates financial penalties for legal entities, entrepreneurs, and responsible persons within legal entities if they commit any of the following offenses:

  • Failure to implement measures to prevent harassment until the end of the procedure,
  • Termination of an employment contract or imposition of measures terminating the employment relationship contrary to the provisions of this law,
  • Acting contrary to the provisions of the law regarding the protection of participants in proceedings for protection against harassment,
  • Failure to inform the employee about the prohibition of harassment in accordance with this law.

The fines range from 100.000,00 to 800.000,00 dinars for legal entities, 10.000,00 to 400.000,00 dinars for entrepreneurs, and 5.000,00 to 40.000,00 dinars for responsible persons within legal entities, depending on the committed offense. These penalties aim to ensure compliance with legal norms and workplace protection to prevent harassment at work.

8. Mobbing case law

We have mentioned that case law indicates proving mobbing can be a challenging process. 

However, this assertion is based on limited information, especially considering the low number of mobbing reports. Consequently, there are not many judgments on which such conclusions can be drawn.

Analyzing the available case law, we have found that the most common issues revolve around recognizing and determining specific behaviors such as mobbing.  

In such cases, courts often examine aspects such as:

  • Whether the employee fulfilled their contractual obligations,
  • Whether the employer provided healthy and safe working conditions, 
  • Whether the employer took steps to prevent harassment,
  • How the employer treats other employees in relation to the harassed employee,
  • Whether the employer's behavior towards the employee was justified,
  • How the employee feels due to such behavior.

Based on this information, courts then make decisions aimed at fairly assessing the situation. 

Overall, with properly collected and presented evidence, victims of mobbing have a chance to achieve justice.

9. Mobbing in the Education and Healthcare Sectors

High expectations, enormous workloads, emotional engagement, and a lack of resources are characteristic challenges in the education and healthcare sectors, making them more susceptible to conflicts and abuse. The hierarchical structure in these sectors further contributes to the frequency of these issues, leaving little room for employees to assert their rights or even express dissatisfaction with their positions. 

For these reasons, we have dedicated special attention to bullying in schools and bullying in healthcare.

1. Mobbing in schools

Mobbing in schools is becoming an increasing problem in Serbia, with long-lasting effects on both students and teachers, as well as the entire school community. According to available data from various internet portals, school violence can manifest in various forms, including physical, verbal, social, emotional, and sexual violence. The same data indicates that 1 in 5 teachers in Serbia feels harassed at work, which is a concerning statistic. 

To prevent mobbing in schools, educational institutions should have clear policies and procedures for the prevention and response to violence, as well as support mechanisms for bullying victims. Educating all members of the school community about the harmful consequences of bullying and promoting positive forms of communication and mutual respect can also contribute to reducing this problem in schools.

2. Workplace mobbing in healthcare

You've probably heard of one of the well-known cases of workplace bullying in the healthcare institution "Dr. Laza Lazarević," where the director of the institution was dismissed in 2017 after employees accused her of mobbing. 

In this particular case, employees claimed they were subjected to constant pressure, intimidation, and unfair treatment by the director. Some reported receiving threats of dismissal or wage reductions if they did not comply with her demands. 

Judging by the number of employees who left the institution during the director's tenure (around 70 employees), it can be concluded that this workplace mobbing situation was quite serious and prolonged. It likely led to harmful consequences not only for individuals directly affected but also for the institution's reputation. 

In cases of workplace bullying in healthcare, it's crucial for healthcare institutions to take urgent measures to protect employees and prevent further abuse. One of these steps is encouraging employees to report workplace mobbing to create a safer and healthier work environment for everyone.

Labor law attorney

If you believe you are a victim of workplace mobbing and are experiencing negative health consequences as a result of harassment at work, contacting a labor law attorney is a crucial step to understanding your rights and exploring legal options for protection. If you have any more questions or need further assistance, feel free to ask.

Sonja Pekic Advokat Novi Sad

Author

Attorney at Law Sonja Pekić

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