The passing of a law offering expanded protection against workplace harassment is expected to create an increase in the already growing number of bullying-related lawsuits in Turkey.
For the first time, employers are obligated to protect all workers from psychological abuse under the revised Article 417 of the Debts Law that Parliament passed last week.
Previously, the law focused specifically on protecting both female and male workers from sexual abuse in the workplace.
Lawsuits related to workplace bullying, also known as “mobbing,” have already increased in Turkey due to the growing level of societal awareness on the topic. With the new law, however, the number of legal cases is expected to skyrocket.
Workplace bullying is most frequently seen in the finance, education, health and communications sectors, as well as in the military, according to Çağlar Çabuk, the founder of the Workplace Bullying Training and Support Center. She said the entire private sector has been waiting for such a law to be instituted, though further measures are still necessary.
The biggest problem in bullying-related lawsuits is proving that systematic harassment took place, Çabuk said. “There are witnesses, but nobody wants to take the stand.”
She suggested the system implemented in Germany as a solution to this issue. “In Germany, a witness [to workplace harassment] cannot be fired from work for a year,” she said. “Don’t you have the urge to help someone who is being beaten up in the street? It is the same thing. Someone is suffering before you, but you do nothing.”
If companies want to fight against workplace bullying, they should set up ethics boards, Çabuk said.
“Even small- and medium-size enterprises, which have less than 250 workers, should set up ethics boards,” she said. “In a company, we can defend our rights by sticking to an ethics law. That will be our guide. We should include mobbing in ethics, too.”
Çabuk additionally called for the disciplines of law, psychology, psychiatry, criminology, human-resources management and business science to be applied to solving the problem of workplace bullying.
Women affected more
Sixty percent of the 135 people who have sought the support of Çabuk’s Workplace Bullying Training and Support Center over the past year are women. According to psychiatrist Derya Deniz, women are more open to support and have an easier time expressing their feelings. “Men hide it; they don’t want others to say, ‘He couldn’t cope,’” she said.
The most frequent problems involved in mobbing cases examined by the center were lambasting, belittling and gossiping about the victim, as well as a general disapproval of the individual’s work. Some victims receiving support from the center decided to take their cases to court, while others were satisfied with receiving psychological support or having their stories listened to. In addition, some cases that initially seemed to be incidents of workplace bullying were ultimately determined not to be so, while some people who explained how they had been treated eventually even turned out to be the bullies themselves.
The aim of filing lawsuits is to discourage perpetrators, according to lawyer Metin İriz, who has given legal support in bullying cases to some 20 people. Before workplace bullying was defined under the law, such cases were generally filed as lawsuits for damage, libel suits and harassment cases.
One of his İriz’s clients is a vocational high school teacher in Istanbul identified only as F.İ. who has filed a lawsuit alleging cruelty by the headmaster and deputy headmasters of the school. The Bakırköy High Criminal Court accepted the indictment two weeks ago, something that could set an example for future cases. The first trial is scheduled for March.
F.İ. claims that because she is a widow, neither the headmaster nor the deputies wanted her at the school. She said they spread gossip about her with the help of other teachers and did everything they could to keep her away from the school. During the process, F.İ. had two heart attacks. When she came to İriz for legal help, the center immediately obtained a report from the psychiatry department at Istanbul University’s School of Medicine indicating that she was suffering from “major depression” and “post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Following this, İriz consulted with a criminal jurist. If F.İ. wins her case, he said, the accused could be punished with eight to 15 years in prison on charges of cruelty toward a member of the public.
More protection to come
Under the new law passed by Parliament, psychological abuse in the workplace is described as including verbal insults, belittling, leaving a person alone on purpose, excluding an employee from company activities and assigning a worker either too little or too much work. The real purpose of any of these systematic acts of bullying and intimidation is to wear a worker down until he or she quits the job. Such behavior, however, is different than job-related tension, stress or momentary outbursts.
In addition, a draft law on “The Board for Equality and Fighting against Discrimination” that gives a detailed description of harassment is pending at the Prime Ministry. If passed, it is expected to serve as a good reference to support jurists in bullying cases.
Workplace bullying is also currently being discussed in a sub-commission of the Parliamentary Commission on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men. The commission, which has consulted expert views, is expected to release a report in late February.