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Bullying in the Workplace – Are employers best placed to resolve an issue like this?

Peter McDonnell & Associates have represented over 2000 victims in abuse/bullying/marginalisation cases as verified by the Dept. of Education & Skills. Call us on 087 2285247 or law@petermcdonnell.ie and we shall explain the legal landscape around workplace harassment and how legal & expert witness fees are paid.


This is the second in a series of blog posts exploring bullying and harassment in the workplace and the uneasy role of internal employment affair processes which put the employer in the position of judge, jury and executioner.


Penelope is planning legal action against her firm after deciding its whistleblowing channels had failed her. The young mother says she was unfairly disciplined by the Tokyo branch of one of the ‘Big 4’ for bringing her toddler into the office cafeteria when kindergarten had to close early during an emergency.


This incident is one of several that she claims were part of a campaign by colleagues to unlawfully demote and ostracise her at work over the past two years. Because she is not ethnically Japanese, she believes that many of her problems arose from a perception by colleagues and managers that she is “culturally unfit” to work at the firm’s Japanese office.

Penelope’s troubles began when her in-house “coach” failed to provide clear goals despite being asked many times. Gradually, she says, she was pushed out of daily activities and subjected to mushi, being completely ignored. At her annual evaluation, she was given a poor rating because she had not met goals that she says were never set.

The whole episode, she now believes, was part of an attempt to first sideline and ultimately get rid of her. She remains with the company but has been demoted, and now works in what she describes as “limbo” — being asked to do odd translation jobs for which she is not qualified.

She has taken her complaints to the local labour bureau and to global head office, while her lawyer is planning to bring a case of unlawful demotion against the Japanese branch of the firm.

The firm said: “Speaking up is crucial to our culture and our long-term results. We take complaints seriously, and maintain an appropriate process for reporting concerns both by internal personnel as well as by outside parties.

“We require appropriate follow-up and investigation of complaints, and we protect our people against retaliation for reporting concerns in good faith. Retaliation is itself a form of serious misconduct that we do not tolerate.”

Penelope’s legal battle is likely to prove difficult. The Big Four’s aggressive approach to legal action also angered many of the whistleblowers, with several saying they were advised by their own lawyers not to pick a fight. Two former employees said their firm made explicit threats to ruin their reputation if they pressed ahead with legal action.

Others believe the firms deliberately drag out legal proceedings to make it impossible for anyone without huge financial resources. One woman said her lawyers told her a UK employment tribunal claim would take at least two years, and cost her more than £300,000.

Unable to cope with the potential stress, she followed her lawyers’ advice and signed a settlement agreement with an NDA.

“The whole process around employment tribunals is to rack up your costs and bleed you dry until you give up,” says the former HR professional. “Most people just want to move on. That’s why there’s no accountability in these firms.”


Peter McDonnell & Associates


At Peter McDonnell & Associates we know from experience that the single greatest cause of worry for clients is the issue of legal fees.


Contact us on 087 2285247 or law@petermcdonnell.ie and we shall explain the legal landscape around workplace harassment and how legal & expert witness fees are paid.


*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or a proportion of any award or settlement.

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*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or a proportion of any award or settlement.