– March 7, 2023

“A staff member approached me with allegations of bullying against other staff members. I want to take these allegations seriously. How can I proceed as an employer? What is the legal situation in such a case?”

Bullying in the workplace is becoming more and more common. As this is difficult to prove and the victim bears the burden of proof, it often goes undetected. But what can victims of workplace bullying do about it?

Bullying manifests itself in hostility against a specific person. Characteristic is the systematic and repetitive nature – it is not about a single act, but about many individual acts over a longer period of time. Viewed as a whole, they constitute a violation of personality. 

Employer’s duty to protect
The employer has a duty of care and a duty to take preventive health measures. This implies that the employer must take appropriate measures to prevent bullying in the workplace. For example, the employer must take action against bullying employees and take timely measures to prevent bullying, such as appointing a bullying coach or issuing warnings, instructions or dismissals. If the employer fails to do so, he may be liable for any damages. 

In Switzerland there is so-called freedom of dismissal, which in principle allows both the employer and the employee to give notice at any time. However, as mentioned above, the employer must be liable for the damage if he has not fulfilled his duties of protection. This may result in a claim by the employee for compensation of up to six months’ wages.

Criminal liability for workplace bullying
In Switzerland we do not yet have a separate criminal offence for mobbing. However, individual behaviours and actions, such as insults or threats, may well be covered by our criminal law.

What to do if you are a victim of workplace bullying?
If you want your employer to be liable in the event of a bullying incident, you must take action. According to case law, employees affected by bullying have a duty to tell their employer and make them aware of their duty of care. However, it may be advisable not to talk about bullying directly, but to address specific incidents and problems. To do this, it is advisable to keep a kind of diary and collect evidence of the hostilities. This also facilitates the possibility of proving the acts if this should be necessary later, for example in court. 

If the superior himself/herself is the one who gives you the most trouble, you should contact the next higher level or the human resources department.

If you have any questions regarding employment law, our lawyers will be happy to advise you.