What if a co-worker does not say hello to you? – Work community mediation helps in workplace bullying situations

Employment law

HR professionals and managers encounter conflict situations in the workplace from time to time, which they try to solve in a variety of ways. Relationships between co-workers may be tense for seemingly insignificant reasons. One person may, for example, feel hurt when a co-worker does not say good morning to them in the morning.

At the level of the individual, it’s always about the subjective experience of each person, how they feel when a co-worker does not greet them, or otherwise treats them in an undesired way. It may well be that the co-worker does not mean any harm by their behaviour and certainly not to that person. It’s possible that the co-worker treats everyone else at work in the same way. On the other hand, the situation may be exactly as the person perceives it; she is the only person who has been intentionally and maliciously excluded from being greeted.

Many cynics will at this point think ‘so what’ if someone does not greet another person, it’s not that big of a deal. In addition, many may think that this can't possibly be the employer’s problem. But the issue is as big of a deal as the person feels it is. If these negative feelings are not resolved early on and negative behaviour is not addressed, this can have serious consequences for the workplace that can quickly snowball into much bigger problems. The person may start to show more serious symptoms, such as becoming ill, and soon he may infect other colleagues and family members. A seemingly insignificant issue may soon poison the whole workplace atmosphere. Soon we are in a situation where the employee’s illness can be blamed on the employer’s inaction as well as on the actions of the bully. The employer has an obligation to eliminate all issues from the workplace that are harmful to the employee’s mental or physical health, as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

So what should you do if there are unwanted conflicts in the workplace? One highly recommended way to resolve conflicts is through work community mediation provided by an external expert. This method is not used enough in different working environment challenges or personal chemistry problems. Work community mediation is also suitable for dealing with bullying. Work community mediation works best in situations where the parties involved in the conflict both want to settle the matter. In mediation, matters are discussed neutrally and confidentially, with the aim of directing the parties involved in the conflict to a mutually agreeable solution.

However, both the victim and bully are legally obligated to participate in mediation as required by the employer and to contribute to resolving the matter. Refusal may result in labour law sanctions, such as a verbal warning, a written warning or termination of employment. In December 2015, the Helsinki Court of Appeal stated in its judgment (without the force of law) that the worker must participate in measures adopted by the employer, such as work community mediation, aimed at bringing harassment and inappropriate behaviour to an end. In this case, the Court of Appeal found that the employer had had the right to terminate the employee’s contract of employment due to the employee’s refusal to participate in work community mediation.

Work community mediation should be implemented at the early stage of the conflict, even as early as when a co-worker does not say hello.