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Mobbing in the Workplace

Written by Tekna’s legal department Feb. 22 2021

Workplace mobbing may be defined as a situation where an employee is repeatedly subjected to hostile acts committed by others at their workplace over a period of time.

Mobbing may involve harassment, isolation, hurtful teasing and the like. It often happens that the individual being targeted is for different reasons unable to defend themselves. An example might be an unequal power balance between two parties, for instance a supervisor and employee. Yet if clashing parties have an equal power balance, or if it concerns only isolated incidents, these situations are not defined as ones where mobbing is taking place.

In Norway it’s estimated that around 5 % of the workforce are subjected to mobbing (according to the above definition of the word). Mobbing is illegal; indeed, the Working Environment Act (section 4-3 nr. 3) clearly states the following: “An employee must not be subjected to harassment or any other form of inappropriate behavior”.

Why does mobbing happen?

Certain factors increase the risk of mobbing:

  • A work environment that tolerates mobbing or doesn’t regard this behavior as a problem
  • Sudden organizational changes
  • Unreliable hiring practices
  • Poor relationship between employees and management
  • Poor relationships among colleagues
  • Extremely high workloads
  • Deficiencies in human resource policies and lack of common values
  • High level of work-related stress
  • Role conflicts

In addition, the risk of mobbing can increase as a result of individual and situational factors like discrimination, intolerance, personal problems and substance abuse. As the above list indicates, this is a problem that can only be blamed minimally on the employee’s personality.

Responsibility for the work environment

According to the Working Environment Act (chapter 4), an employer is responsible for ensuring that the work environment is completely safe – physically, mentally and socially. The term ‘employer’ also means the organization, including the individuals that practice an employer function through their roles as for example manager or middle manager. The other employees also have a responsibility to prevent mobbing and contribute to making their organization’s work environment be a healthy one. This can be achieved in part by following the obligation of loyalty that applies to all employees, and by the obligation to act, both of which appear in the Working Environment Act (sections 2-3), where the following appears:

”An employee must make sure that their employer or health and safey representative are informed as soon as the employee becomes aware that harassment or discrimination are happening at their workplace.”

What should you do if you feel you’re being subjected to mobbing?

Your organization should have their own procedures for handling all issues associated with mobbing. According to the Working Environment Act (section 3-1), an employer must systematically ensure health, environment and safety in the workplace. This work should include defining what mobbing is and taking measures to discourage it. In addition, it’s smart to seek help and advice if you feel you’re being subjected to mobbing. Your company union representative and health and safety representative should be contacted (if your workplace employs such individuals). You may also contact The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority for guidance and follow-up. And you can of course contact Tekna’s legal department for advice and assistance.

Cases of mobbing are generally difficult ones to prove. This is partly because it’s often difficult to prove that mobbing has actually taken place, and partly because there are usually several colleagues who might become involved in the process in ways they don’t want.

Places to turn to if you’re being subjected to mobbing in your workplace:

  • Company health service (if your organization has one). You should ask them for a meeting, and please remember that they have a duty of confidentiality as long as you don’t give them permission to bring your case to your employer.
  • Doctor – if you become ill due to conditions at your workplace, your doctor will report this on a separate form which is sent to The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority. The prerequisite for their taking up your case is that you must give written consent to do so on a notification form.
  • The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority – they can provide information and guidance to all parties involved in a conflict/mobbing situation. The Authority neither assigns blame nor acts as a conflict mediator. Rather, it pushes for getting the organization to implement any and all actions needed to resolve the situation.
  • Working life mental health telephone tel. 225 66 700 – when you need someone to talk to and get advice on how to move forward.

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