Law SwedenLaw Sweden
VICTIMIZATION AT WORK
Adopted 21st September 1993
In the event of disagreement concerning the interpretation and content of
this text, the Swedish version shall have priority.
VICTIMIZATION AT WORK
Ordinance of the National Board of Occupational Safety and Health
containing Provisions on measures against Victimization at Work,
together with General Recommendations on the implementation of
Adopted 21st September 1993
Ordinance of the Swedish National Board of
Occupational Safety and Health containing
Provisions on measures against
Victimization at Work
Adopted 21st September 1993
The following Provisions are issued by the National Board of Occupational Safety
and Health pursuant to Section 18 of the Work Environment Ordinance (SFS
Scope and definitions
These Provisions apply to all activities in which employees can be subjected to
victimization. By victimization is meant recurrent reprehensible or distinctly
negative actions which are directed against individual employees in an offensive
manner and can result in those employees being placed outside the workplace
The employer should plan and organize work so as to prevent victimization as far
The employer shall make clear that victimization cannot be accepted in the
In the activities there shall be routines for the early detection of signs of, and the
rectification of such unsatisfactory working conditions, problems of work
organization or deficiencies of co-operation as can provide a basis for
If signs of victimization become apparent, counter-measures shall without delay be
taken and followed up. In doing so, a special investigation shall be made to
ascertain whether the causes of shortcomings of co-operation are to be found in the
way in which work is organized.
Employees who are subjected to victimization shall quickly be given help or
support. The employer shall have special routines for this.
Entry into force
These Provisions enter into force on 31st March 1994.
Kurt Baneryd Göran Lindh
General Recommendations of the Swedish National
Board of Occupational Safety and Health on the
implementation of the Provisions on measures against Victimization at Work
The following General Recommendations are issued by the National Board of
Occupational Safety and Health on the implementation of its Ordinance (AFS
1993:17) on measures against Victimization at Work.
Underlying causes of destructive behaviour in the form of
The background to victimization can, for example, be shortcomings in the
organization of work, the internal information system or the direction of work,
excessive or insufficient workload or level of demands, shortcomings of the
employer's personnel policy or in the employer's attitude or response to the
Unsolved, persistent organizational problems cause powerful and negative mental
strain in working groups. The group's stress tolerance diminishes and this can
cause a "scapegoat mentality" and trigger acts of rejection against individual
The fact that causes of the problems are to be looked for in conditions at the
workplace is especially apparent when several persons have been ostracized over
a longer period, one by one, through various kinds of victimization.
Sometimes, of course, there may also be causes of victimization or attempts at
ostracization which are to be found in individual persons' choice of action or
behaviour. Sometimes, though, one can find that, even in these cases, the root cause
is unsatisfactory work situations in which individual employees, in their anxiety or
hopelessness, find cause for more and more overtly displaying their displeasure and
acting in a way which can harm or provoke others around them
Consequences of victimization
Serious consequences of victimization can become apparent, for example, in the
Among individual employees:
- Increasing friction in the form of aversion, irritability or pronounced
indifference. Deliberate breaking of rules or exaggerated adherence to
rules, reduced performance.
- High stress level, low stress tolerance with over-reactions, sometimes
traumatic crisis experience.
- Physical illness, substance abuse problems or mental reactions, e.g. sleep
disturbances, loss of self-confidence, anxiety, "brooding", depression or
manic symptoms, sometimes powerful aggression and severe tiredness.
- Inability to look ahead or unreasonable demands for vindication.
- Thoughts of suicide or violence to oneself.
If the victimization does not cease immediately (and if the basic problems of the
workplace are not investigated and dealt with), there is a risk of the symptoms
becoming permanent in a chronic state which can require prolonged medical and
psychological expert help.
Among the working group:
- Reduced efficiency and productivity.
- Erosion of existing rules or freezing of rules.
- Mounting criticism of the employer, lack of confidence, a general sense
- Increasing friction, e.g. lack of understanding for other ways of doing
things, withdrawals from the group or from duties, attempts to cease
power or the formation of powerful cliques.
- High sickness absenteeism, substance abuse problems, large personnel
turnover and a growing number of applications for leave of absence.
- Low tolerance of stresses and strains, and general symptoms of
- Magnification of minor problems.
- A continuing search for new scapegoats.
The ability and readiness of the working group to take part in the solution of
internal problems will increase, palpably diminish or disappear, depending on how
the conflict is observed and treated by the employer. If nothing at all is done, the
risk situation will grow worse as time passes.
Guidance on individual Sections
Guidance on Section 1
Victimization in the form of various kinds of reprehensible behaviour can be
committed both by employees and by the employer personally or his
The phenomena commonly referred to, for example, as adult bullying, mental
violence, social rejection and harassment - including sexual harassment - have come to be seen more and more as problems of working life in their own right and
will be collectively referred to here as victimization.
These are difficult and sensitive problems. What is more, they can have serious and
harmful effects on individual employees and on entire working groups if carelessly
assessed and handled. Harmful effects on exposed persons may be revealed by both
mental and physical pathological states - sometimes chronic - and also by social
rejection from working life and the workplace community.
The following are some instances of victimization:
- Slandering or maligning an employee or his/her family.
- Deliberately withholding work-related information or supplying incorrect
information of this kind.
- Deliberately sabotaging or impeding the performance of work.
- Obviously insulting ostracism, boycott or disregard of the employee.
- Persecution in various forms, threats and the inspiration of fear,
degradation, e.g. sexual harassment.
- Deliberate insults, hypercritical or negative response or attitudes
(ridicule, unfriendliness etc.).
- Supervision of the employee without his/her knowledge and with harmful
- Offensive "administrative penal sanctions" which are suddenly directed
against an individual employee without any objective cause, explanations
or efforts at jointly solving any underlying problems. The sanctions may,
for example, take the form of groundless withdrawal of an office or
duties, unexplained transfers or overtime requirements, manifest
obstruction in the processing of applications for training, leave of absence
Offensive administrative sanctions are, by definition, deliberately carried out in
such a way that they can be taken as a profound personal insult or as an abusive
power and are liable to cause high, prolonged stress or other abnormal and
hazardous mental strains on the individual.
The attitudes involved in offensive acts are, briefly, characterized by gross lack of
respect and offend against general principles of honourable and moral behaviour
towards other people. The actions have a negative effect, in both the short and long
term, on individuals and also on entire working groups.
For the sake of clarity, it should be added that occasional differences of opinion,
conflicts and problems in working relations generally should be regarded as normal
phenomenas - always provided, of course, that the mutual attitudes and actions
connected with the problems are not intended to harm or deliberately offend any
person. Victimization does not occur until personal conflicts lose their reciprocity
and respect for people's right to personal integrity slips into unethical actions of the
kind mentioned above and individual employees are dangerously affected as a
General measures for the prevention of victimization
Guidance on Section 2
The Ordinance of the National Board of Occupational Safety and Health on Internal
Control of the Working Environment (AFS 1992:6) defines the responsibility
devolving on the employer under Chap. 3, Section 2 a of the Work Environment
Act. That responsibility includes many different aspects of the working
environment. The following are some examples of general and overarching
measures which the employer can take for the prevention of victimization at work.
- Design a distinct work environment policy which among other things also
declares the employer's general aims, intentions and attitude to the
- Design routines for ensuring that psychological and social work
environment conditions, including personal response, work situation and
work organization, will be as good as possible.
- Take steps to prevent people meeting with a negative response at work,
e.g. by creating norms which encourage a friendly and respectful climate
at the workplace. It is above all the employer and the employer's
representatives who must set an example to others in creating a good
- Give managers and supervisory personnel training and guidance on
matters relating to the rules of labour law, the effect of different working
conditions on people's experiences, interaction and conflict risks in
groups and skills for rapid response to people in situations of stress and
It is important, not least with a view to their own work situation and working
environment, that managers directly involved in the supervision of personnel
should have sufficient insight and knowledge in these fields.
- Provide a good introduction which will enable the employee to adjust
well to the working group. It is also important that the rules applying at
the workplace should be made quite clear.
- Give each employee the best possible knowledge of the activities and
their objectives. Regular information and workplace meetings will help
to achieve this.
- Give all employees information about and a share in the measures agreed
on for the prevention of victimization.
- Try to ensure that duties have substance and meaning and that the
capacity and knowledge of the individual are utilized.
- Give the employees opportunities of improving their knowledge and
developing in their jobs, and encourage them to pursue this end.
Guidance on Section 3
Important principles for all persons in working life include the following:
Offensive behaviour or treatment can never be accepted, no matter who is involved
or who is the target.
It is especially important that the employer should take active steps to prevent any
employee being subjected to victimization by other employees.
Managers and supervisory staff have a key part to play in shaping the atmosphere
and the norms which are to prevail at workplaces. One necessary principle is that
the employer must never subject an employee to victimization, e.g. through abusive
power or any other unacceptable behaviour or response. The employee's position
of dependence has a very important bearing on employer-employee contacts.
Misunderstandings can occur very easily, and the employer, therefore, should
always take an attitude which inspires confidence.
The best chances of achieving a good atmosphere and workable norms occur when
the employer, through his or her own behaviour, creates a reliable basis for a twoway
dialogue, communication, and a genuine desire to solve problems. This
generally causes the risks of victimization to diminish or disappear.
It is important that norms for co-operation should be concretized and specially
clarified in the work environment policy and in the introduction of new employees,
and that they should be continuously followed up.
It is important that employees should have a part in measures which are taken to
solve the overriding problems of the workplace. This means that, in cases where
the employer and employees have together decided which principles are to apply
to the planning of work and to co-operation at the workplace, all employees should
be familiar with those principles and should know how to relate to them.
Special measures and routines
Guidance on Section 4
Preventive and early inputs and measures are critically important. Accordingly,
when organizational problems or discrimination occur, the employer must be told
as soon as possible, so as to be able to take suitable measures. Nobody should help
to conceal victimization, even if risks of conflicting loyalties are liable to occur.
All problems at the workplace should be dealt with quickly, relevantly and in a
respectful manner. Solutions should be looked for through talks and measures
aimed at improving the working conditions of those concerned. If criticism is
levelled at an employee, the latter should be told of the criticism and given an
opportunity of replying to it. Personal opinions and loosely founded assumptions
about an employee or the way in which the employee does his or her job should not
be made a basis of discrimination. In cases where it is quite obvious that an
employee has actually provoked the aversion of others, the employer should draw
the employee's attention to his or her duty of helping to create a good working
environment and a good atmosphere at work. At the same time, the employer needs
to be aware that provocative behaviour can be a sign of unsatisfactory situations at
work and must take the initiative in achieving a concrete solution of these
It is important to take an objective, positive, problem-solving attitude to the
problems put forward, to listen to all concerned and to support the weakest. Policy
decisions over the head of the person concerned are liable to make that person's
situation a great deal worse.
As a part of preventive work environment policy, employers must consciously
create preparedness for dealing with the psychological, social and organizational
aspects of the working environment, to the same extent as questions of a physical
or technical nature. This is also part of the employer's duty under the Work
Environment Act. See also the Board's Ordinance on Internal Control of the
Working Environment (AFS 1992:6) and General Recommendations on
Psychological and Social Aspects of the Working Environment (AFS 1980:14).
The employer should have routines of such a kind, for contacts with individual
employees, that the existence of frictions in working relations can be observed or
ascertained at an early stage. This makes it important for work to be arranged in
such a way that the supervisory staff can get to know each member of the working
group, and will have the opportunity of regular talks with group members.
Guidance on Section 5
It is very seldom indeed that friction is due to one person only. The causes should
as a rule be looked for in the way in which work is organized and not laid at the
door of the individual employee. At the same time, it is important that each
employee should be aware of his or her own ability and duty to help create a good
climate at work. Solutions to problems can primarily be looked for through the
development of working methods, work allocation, communication and suchlike.
As an aid to this end, an analysis of the way in which work is organized as regards,
for example, duties, requirements and authority, can form a basis for discussions
and planning. Occupational health services can be a useful resource in this
connection and can support the process of problem-solving.
Victimization is in itself a risk to more employees than those who are directly
involved and, while it lasts, often imposes a heavy mental burden on other persons
as well. What is more, the difficulties of finding and dealing with basic problems
increase with the passing of time and commensurately with the deadlocking of
personal positions and pin points in connection with the accusations, excuses and
counter-accusations which are frequently exchanged when victimization becomes
noticed. It is important, therefore, that the employer should take immediate action
to deal with abuses which can trigger or already has triggered victimization.
One appropriate first step is a confidential talk with the person subjected to
victimization. It is important that this interview should proceed with respect and
in a frank, open atmosphere. When talking to the persons involved, one should be
aware of the danger of allowing oneself to be influenced by negative standpoints.
People's natural attitude in situations like this is often to construct a powerful
defence for their actions, and as mentioned earlier, views can be characterized
among other things by rigid positions, group pressures and loyalties. Often,
therefore, the blame for victimization is put on the person subjected to it. At the
same time one has to realize that many people dislike the way in which a fellowemployee
is being treated and will gladly play a part in breaking the destructive
pattern of things. Gathering the entire working group for a discussion is not to be
recommended except as the final stage of action planning with a view to achieving
practical improvements in working routines and in the working situation of the
group as a whole.
The prospects of achieving good consensus solutions diminish the longer an
employee is away from work or the problems are left untackled. Negative personal
opinions can become inflexible on both sides, with the result that good ways back
to work are no longer to be found. In certain cases the problems may in time
develop into a complete deadlock, with perpetual new misunderstandings and,
finally, if the worst comes to the worst, the complete elimination of the employee
from working life.
It can be hard for an employer to take an objective view of all aspects of the
problems, and so it is often advisable to call in a consultant for this purpose, e.g.
through the occupational health services.
Help and support for individual and working group
Guidance on Section 6
An employee who has been sicklisted on account of the health effects of
victimization should be supported in returning to work as quickly as possible.
Normalization of everyday life and personal and emotional support are the most
important means of counteracting severe after-effects in people who have been
through traumatic experiences.
Swift readjustment is greatly dependent on contact being maintained with the
individual (whether sicklisted or not) and on the individual having good
opportunities for talking privately, both to fellow-employees and to the employer,
about what has happened. In these talks one can discuss various possible reasons
for what happened, try to find ways of improving and changing the working
environment, and assess the economic or practical resources available in relation
to what is desired.
Invitations or exhortation to consult a psychologist or suchlike can sometimes be
interpreted as a personal offence, and so it is important that wishes of this kind
should be expressed by the individual concerned.
Sometimes it may be necessary to consider the possibilities of defusing acute
disagreements or intractable interpersonal problems at the workplace by making
an offer of training or transfer to other duties. This recourse can be used, for
example, in order to protect an employee from further discrimination or risks of
injury. If so, it is extremely important that the solutions offered should have
substance and meaning and that, accordingly, the employee will have an
opportunity for further development at work and good social contacts. Furthermore,
the deliberations should take place in direct consultation with the employee
personally and with reference to the employee's perceived potentialities and
preferences. One important principle is that the measures taken should, as far as
possible, entail no impairment of working conditions.
In addition to the help which can be offered to an individual employee, it is very
important to deal with the practical problems which, in most cases, underlie the
"scapegoat mentality" in a group, so that the group will find ways of achieving
better co-operation in future. There is a serious risk of events repeating themselves,
with new cases of victimization as a result, unless the basic, work-related problems
are discussed carefully and a common determination is found to take measures for
The longer the basic problems remain unsolved, the greater the risk of serious
consequences becomes and the greater will be the number of persons affected at
the workplace. More often than not, the employees in a group have a close
knowledge of the organizational problems which need to be dealt with. It is
important that those problems should be made clear when there is victimization of
individuals. Otherwise there is a serious risk of the offended individual and his or
her problems being regarded as the sole, paramount topic.
In cases where the process in the working group has gone too far for constructive
measures to succeed at the workplace concerned, qualified expert assistance may
be needed for causal analyses, proposals for solutions and individual and group
discussions. In relevant cases, resources of occupational health services may be
of great assistance here as well.
Other relevant rules etc.
Ordinances etc. issued by the Swedish National Board of Occupational Safety
AFS 1980:14 Psychological and Social Aspects of the
AFS 1992:6 Internal Control of the Working
The Equal Opportunities
Ombudsman: The Frida-report: Sexual Harassment
towards Women in Working Life
Official report, 1987
National Board of Occupational
Safety and Health for
Government Employees: "Social Rejection at the Workplace".
Policy for the local work environment
activities agreed by the labour-market
The Confederation of
(TCO) "The First Stone. On Mental Violation in
Working Life." Study book.
"A more Humane Working Life." Study
*) Available in English