Here’s Your Guide to Battling Workplace Bullying in Germany: Know Your Rights and Take Action

Workplace bullying is a pervasive issue that casts a shadow on employees’ well-being, affecting both mental and physical health. It is crucial for individuals facing such challenges to recognize their rights and understand that they need not endure this silently. In this piece, we delve into the legal aspects of workplace bullying, the employer’s duty of care, and the actionable steps employees can take when confronted with this detrimental behavior.

Deciphering Workplace Bullying
Bullying within the workplace transcends beyond mere interpersonal conflicts; it constitutes a form of psychological violence with profound consequences for its victims. Prolonged exposure to bullying not only takes a toll on mental health, contributing to conditions like depression and anxiety, but it can also manifest physically, leading to chronic stress-related illnesses. The diverse forms of bullying encompass verbal abuse, exclusion, and intimidation, creating an unhealthy work environment that demands attention and action.

Understanding “Mobbing” Under German Law
In Germany, workplace bullying, termed “Mobbing,” is legally defined as the systematic harassment or discrimination of an employee by colleagues and/or superiors. Crucially, this maltreatment must be repetitive over an extended period, demonstrating intent to harm the victim. It is essential to discern that not all workplace conflicts fall under the legal definition of bullying; the conduct must be systematic and purposeful in causing harm to the targeted individual.

Employer’s Duty of Care
Under German law, employers bear a duty of care, known as “Fürsorgepflicht,” to protect their employees from bullying. This obligation, enshrined in section 618(1) of the German Civil Code (BGB), extends to various public law sources, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act (ArbSchG) and the Workplace Ordinance (ArbStättV). Employers are mandated to proactively prevent bullying through fostering a safe work environment, conducting training on bullying prevention, and taking decisive action against perpetrators.

Employer’s Role in Bullying Prevention
Employers must implement tangible measures to thwart bullying in the workplace. This includes establishing a safe and healthy work atmosphere, offering training programs to enhance employees’ ability to recognize and prevent bullying, and swiftly addressing any reported incidents. Complaints of bullying must be thoroughly investigated, and appropriate actions should be taken to rectify the situation.

What to Do When Faced with Bullying
For individuals facing bullying, documenting each incident is a crucial initial step. Maintaining a detailed record, including dates, times, and specifics of each occurrence, serves as valuable evidence. Reporting these incidents promptly to supervisors or the HR department is essential. If the employer fails to address the issue, employees retain the option to file a complaint with the labor court.

Legal Landscape in Germany
While the compensation available to bullied employees in Germany may be comparatively lower than in other jurisdictions, recent shifts indicate a growing seriousness in German courts regarding bullying cases. Significant compensation has been awarded in instances of severe bullying, signaling a positive trajectory. Throughout this process, seeking emotional and mental support from a counselor or therapist is advised, prioritizing the employee’s well-being.

Know Your Rights & Protect Yourself
Workplace bullying is a formidable challenge, impacting employees both psychologically and physically. However, understanding that employees possess the right to safeguard themselves is empowering. Employers, bound by a duty of care, are obligated to proactively prevent and address bullying. Employees facing bullying should document, report, and seek support – recording incidents, reporting to their employer, and engaging with a counselor or therapist to navigate the emotional toll.

Workplace bullying is an affront to dignity and respect, and it demands collective action. By knowing their rights and utilizing available resources, employees can forge a path toward a workplace free from the shadows of bullying. Employers, in fulfilling their duty of care, play a pivotal role in fostering a work environment where every individual can thrive without fear of psychological violence. Together, employees and employers can contribute to a workplace culture that values and prioritizes the well-being of its workforce.