Psychological harassment in the workplace

Psychological harassment, also known as mobbing, is characterised by any behaviour that, due to its repetitious and systematic nature, is aimed at, or has the effect of, undermining personal dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

In other words, these are repeated behaviours which may be displayed equally by line managers and work colleagues, which detract considerably from working relationships by damaging the mental health of the victim. 

Psychological harassment should not, however, be confused with simple situations of stress or relationship difficulties at work. In order to be termed psychological harassment, the harasser's behaviour must be beyond the scope of normal working relations. Thus, a simple circumstance of the demands and vicissitudes of company life which may, rightly or wrongly, have been taken to heart by the salaried worker, does not necessarily constitute psychological harassment.

Variations of psychological harassment

Isolating someone, humiliating them in front of other work colleagues, preventing them from expressing themselves or even unfairly undermining their professional skills are all concrete manifestations of psychological harassment.

Generally speaking, there are 2 forms of psychological harassment:

  • direct psychological harassment, where someone, the harasser, takes deliberate targeted action against another person, thereby undermining their dignity. This may, for example, involve a situation where a line manager, when handing a file to an employee, deliberately and systematically drops the file before the employee can take it, meaning the employee has to bend down to pick it up;
  • managerial psychological harassment, which consists of an organisational method that incorporates psychological harassment as a management tool, even if this was not the initial intention; Forms of psychological harassment include collective actions with an impact on individuals such as, for example, continual, abusive and malicious pressure that undermines the dignity of the persons in question. Nevertheless, this form of psychological harassment must be distinguished from employers' routine, non-abusive powers of oversight and management.

Protection for employees who are subject to harassment

Depression, psychosomatic disorders, loss of self-confidence or even behavioural disorders are just some examples of the harmful effects that may result from psychological harassment. In Luxembourg, several associations actively combat all forms of psychological harassment.

At the present time, there is no specific law on psychological harassment. An industry-level agreement declared a general obligation in relation to harassment and violence at work has been signed by the social partners, but it only contains guidelines for the prevention and management of harassment and violence at work.

Case law does, however, dictate that the notion of psychological harassment should form an integral part of the Luxembourg legal system.

The courts refer to common law, namely Article 1134 of the Luxembourg Civil Code, when ruling on cases of psychological harassment at work. This does, however, mean that it is up to the victim – i.e. the employee – to provide not just evidence of the acts of psychological harassment but also to prove that the damage suffered is directly linked to the alleged psychological harassment.

Employer's obligations

Since the employer has the power to manage the company, insofar as they are aware of the acts of psychological harassment, they have a duty to provide their employees with normal and dignified working conditions. They must, therefore, take all necessary measures to prevent and stop all forms of psychological harassment within the company. 

In such situations, case law dictates that, even if they are not the perpetrator of the acts constituting the psychological harassment, the employer may incur liability as the business manager. They are responsible, on the one hand, for attempting to prevent acts of psychological harassment and, on the other, for imposing disciplinary sanctions on the perpetrator of the harassment.

 

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