Details on the handling of a request due to acts of violence, or moral or sexual harassment at work
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If a worker believes that they are the victim of violence, or moral or sexual harassment at work, they can submit a "formal request for psychosocial intervention due to acts of violence or moral or sexual harassment at work" to the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects.
After accepting the request, the Prevention Advisor will not consider the request as either mainly collective or individual. The request is automatically considered an individual request, even if the person being challenged has displayed abusive behaviour to persons other than the applicant.
This request is handled in the same way as a formal request for psychosocial intervention that is mainly individual in nature, but has the important characteristics described below.
The request document must contain the following specific information:
- a precise description of the facts that the worker believes constitute violence or moral or sexual harassment at work;
- the time and place at which each act took place;
- the identity of the person challenged;
- the request for the employer to take the appropriate measures to end these acts.
The request is sent to the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects or the external service for prevention and protection at work for which the Prevention Advisor works.
The worker can only deliver the request in person or send it by registered letter. This means that the exact date on which the request was received can always be determined. This is important as protection against reprisals begins on the date of receipt. Sending the request by normal mail or email is not admissible.
If the request has been submitted in person, a copy of the request is signed by the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects or the person from the external service who received the request (for example the secretariat). This copy is then sent to the applicant and acts as an advice of receipt.
When the request is sent by registered letter, it is deemed to have been received on the third working day following its date of dispatch.
The Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects refuses the submission of the request if the situation described by the applicant clearly does not contain violence or moral or sexual harassment at work.
These are situations in which, at first sight, it is undeniable and obvious that the situation does not fall within the definitions of the concepts of violence or moral or sexual harassment at work. The Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects must not carry out an in-depth investigation on site before taking a decision.
The following example situations clearly do not contain violence or moral or sexual harassment at work:
- a one-off refusal to grant a request for a long period of leave;
- the reorganisation of the entire company;
- an increase in the general work pressure in a certain service;
- the fact that the worker received a negative evaluation although the evaluation procedure was carried out correctly;
This option makes it possible to refuse formal abusive requests submitted with the sole aim of being protected against reprisals when the worker fears being dismissed.
The decision on whether to accept or refuse the request is notified to the applicant at the latest ten calendar days after its receipt.
The request is deemed to be accepted if no decision has been notified within this deadline.
The Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects informs the employer of the request and the identity of the applicant.
They also inform the employer that the applicant is protected against reprisals.
They do not send a copy of the request to the employer or inform the employer of the identity of the person under suspicion.
The applicant and direct witnesses enjoy protection against reprisals.
The direct witnesses are persons who saw or heard the acts mentioned in the request and whose declarations are included in a dated and signed document. Certain persons, for example, may provide information on the atmosphere at work or general information about the attitude of the person under suspicion that they have observed in the service. These persons are considered indirect witnesses and do not enjoy protection against reprisals.
The Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects informs the employer of the identity of the direct witnesses met during the examination of the request and the fact that they enjoy protection.
The Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects informs the person under suspicion as soon as possible about the acts alleged against them, so that they can put together a response before the witnesses or any other person is interviewed.
If the acts are serious, the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects will propose precautionary measures to the employer during the examination of the request or at least before submitting their advice to the employer.
These measures avoid a serious deterioration of the applicant's health or a significant worsening of the situation (for example, by acts punishable by law).
These are situations in which there is a risk of serious consequences if no measure is taken immediately.
During this phase, the Prevention Advisor can only assess the seriousness of the situation based on the initial information provided by the applicant.
The final decision on the taking of measures rests with the employer. This means that the employer does not necessarily have to take the measures proposed by the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects. They can take other measures that offer the worker the same level of protection.
The employer notifies the Prevention Advisor of the decision as soon as possible and in writing.
If the Prevention Advisor considers that the employer is not taking the necessary precautionary measures, they are obliged to contact the Supervision of Well-being at Work inspection service, even without the agreement of the applicant (see title 'Involvement of the Supervision of Well-being at Work inspection service by the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects').
In the event of discriminatory abusive behaviour
The Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism and Discrimination (Unia) and the Institute for the Equality of Women can access the advice of the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects under the following conditions: they must request it from the Prevention Advisor in writing and also provide the agreement of the worker.
Furthermore, the advice of the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects must remain exclusively within the hands of the Centre or Institute and can under no circumstances be sent to the worker.
There are two reasons for this access:
- Firstly, it allows the Centre for Institute to act more effectively as an intermediary between the worker and the employer. Based on the advice, they can form a more objective advice of the situation than when this is based solely on the worker's explanations. This means that they can produce a better analysis of the possibility of taking action with the employer.
- Furthermore, sending this to the Centre or Institute also helps them to fulfil their monitoring role.
In the event of legal action
If the applicant or the person under suspicion plans to take legal action, at their request the employer is obliged to provide them with a copy of the full advice of the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects.
This allows them to assess the chances of a favourable outcome in court.
Involvement of the Well-being at Work inspection service by the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects
The Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects must contact the Supervision of Well-being at Work inspection service without requesting the agreement of the applicant in two circumstances:
- if, before submitting their advice, they note that the employer has not taken the necessary precautionary measures or that these measures were not appropriate;
- if, after submitting their advice, they note that the employer has not taken any measures or has not taken the appropriate measures, and that:
a) there is a serious and immediate danger to the worker; or
b) the person under suspicion is the employer; or
c) the person under suspicion is part of management.
The Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects has the power to examine whether the employer has actually implemented their decision on the action to be taken regarding the request and whether the measures taken were appropriate.
There is a serious and immediate danger to the worker
The serious and immediate danger consists of the fact that the Counsellor is almost certain that the worker will experience serious harm to their health and that this harm will occur immediately. The initial signs are already present in the worker.
For example, the worker is already showing signs of depression and is on sick leave and the employer has not taken any measures.
Rapid intervention is then necessary to avoid the worker sinking into a depression if they return to work after their sick leave and the poor working conditions are still in place.
The Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects should first have warned the employer of this danger in their advice.
The person under suspicion is the employer or part of management
The fact that the illegal behaviour comes from the employer or a member of management is a particularly delicate situation.
Management personnel are defined as the persons responsible for day-to-day management, who have the power to represent and commit the employer (i.e. perform legal acts on behalf of the employer), and members of the personnel directly subordinate to these persons when they also perform day-to-day management duties.
The effectiveness of the intervention by the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects will depend on the goodwill of the employer. However, there is a risk that the employer will not implement the measures proposed by the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects in these situations.
In this case, the Prevention Advisor for psychosocial aspects must contact the inspection service, which can make the proposed measures binding.
- Firstly, with the prevention advisor of the internal and/or external service for prevention and protection at work.
- Secondly, with the competent regional directorate for Supervision of Well-being at Work.
- Questions on the interpretation of the legislation: in writing to the Directorate-General for Humanisation of Labour.