As many as half a million Swedes are the victims of harassment and bullying at work every year, but problems can be prevented and there are good methods for effective investigations these days.
Bullying at work can lead to serious health problems as well as poor productivity, and there are many people affected. According to figures from Statistics Sweden, about 450,000 Swedes claim that they are subjected to harassment or bullying at their workplace every year, and roughly 25,000 of these cases are so serious that their health is affected. There are methods to prevent this kind of problem, however. Stefan Blomberg is a psychologist and one of Sweden’s leading experts on harassment issues at workplaces. He has monitored a number of workplaces with such problems, both small companies and municipalities with over 1000 employees, where good progress has been made with anti-harassment work.
Test and develop
One basic approach, according to Stefan Blomberg, is to look over the company’s policy for dealing with this type of situation. Most companies now have some sort of policy, but it has not often been considered in detail or tested to see how useful it is in a real situation.
“I usually talk about testing the policy in the same way that you have a fire drill. Imagine you are faced with a real situation where an employee is accused of harassing a colleague. Can you follow your plan? Keep on testing and developing the policy until you are satisfied and you know that it works.”
Stefan Blomberg’s second recommendation is to send managers and trade union representatives on a course in conflict management.
“When a conflict breaks out, many managers think, Oh no, that sounds like hard work, I hope it blows over. And perhaps they tell those involved to sort things out and leave it at that. But conflicts that are poorly managed almost always lead to someone feeling insulted or bullied, sooner or later.”
One method whi-ch is increasingly used when investigating sexual harassment and bullying is the fact-finding method, developed by researchers in Norway and claimed to be effective and legally reliable by experts and users.
“The cornerstone of this model is the independence of the investigation leader,” says Stefan Blomberg. “For example, it could be someone from occupational healthcare, provided that she or he is not already familiar to managers and employees.”
It is important that everybody involved is heard and aware of the allegations.
“Unfortunately we have a long tradition in Sweden of allowing people to speak confidentially,” says Stefan Blomberg. “It creates legal uncertainty and can lead to false claims. Those who are accused and unable to defend themselves don’t stand a chance.”
The time factor also needs to be taken into account in investigations. Cases often involve people who feel bad psychologically, and the longer an investigation goes on, the worse they feel. For reasons of legal certainty, it is also important that the people concerned are questioned during the same period of time.
“A report should be on the table within the space of two months,” says Stefan Blomberg. “Investigations of this type are often drawn out affairs, though. They are usually given to overworked staff at occupational healthcare, who try to fit it in among all their other tasks, or it gets passed on to a manager who doesn’t have the necessary knowledge or skills in such issues.”
“Regardless of which method is used for the investigation, it is not always possible to determine who is right since it is often a case of word against word. But if the investigation has been carried out professionally, there is still a lot to be gained,” says Stefan Blomberg.
“There are not many people who want to risk being put through this kind of investigation, and it shows that the employer is taking such issues very seriously, which gives an important message to employees.”
Falu municipality is one employer that successfully applies the fact-finding method. This is what they do:
1. There is a clear policy for equal rights and an action plan against victimisation.
2. Written reports are made of victimisation.
3. A decision is made on either an internal or external investigator. Training in such issues is a requirement.
4. Clarify who the client is. An immediate manager can never be a client.
5. Draw up a written agreement for the investigation.
6. Hear the claimant.
7. Hear the accused.
8. Collect documentation.
9. Hear witnesses for the claimant.
10. Hear witnesses for the accused.
11. Analysis and assessment.
12. A written report is made with an assessment of whether the events are victimisation or not, based on AFS 2015:4.
13. Feedback is given to the client.
14. Presentation of the facts with the client for all involved.
15. The employer decides on possible actions to be taken.
Source: Lag & avtal
Linda Sundgren, text and photo