First case of bullying brought in criminal courts
In September 2002, a Barcelona court started consideration of Spain's first criminal case relating to alleged bullying at work. The fact that the case has been taken to a criminal court, which is reserved for cases of special gravity, shows the increasing importance of bullying in Spain.
In mid-September 2002, a court in Barcelona started considering the first criminal case brought over alleged bullying (acoso laboral, or 'mobbing') in Spain. The case involves a worker, employed for 30 years as an engineer, who accuses his superior of humiliating him in front of his colleagues. He is currently off work suffering from depression. According to the accusation, the bullying began when the worker asked to be covered by the relevant collective agreement in order to improve his pay conditions, a perfectly legitimate possibility according to the current regulations in the company. The particularly abusive nature of the action alleged by the worker led the court to institute criminal proceedings because it considered that the actions may involve a crime against the worker's moral integrity and fundamental rights, causing harm and continued coercion. The defendant is the employee's immediate superior, and the company is accused of civil liability.
Bullying is becoming an increasingly visible occupational risk factor for employees in Spain (ES0207202F). This has been recognised by several court rulings in recent years. The first and most significant, in April 2001, set a clear precedent by considering bullying as an objective occupational hazard that entitled the victims to the same compensation and protective measures as those applied to industrial accidents. Since then, several court judgments have confirmed the treatment of bullying as an objective risk, though always in the labour courts rather than the criminal courts.
Trade unions, associations of victims of bullying and opposition political parties have urged the government to include specific measures against bullying in the criminal and labour laws protecting the fundamental rights of workers. The consideration of bullying as a criminal offence is one of the main proposals under debate. It has also received support from the legal profession. Among others, the chief prosecutor of the High Court of Justice of Andalusia (Tribunal Superior de Justícia de Andalucía, TSJA) has stated on several occasions that it would be advisable to criminalise bullying at work as an offence against fundamental rights in the most serious situations involving particularly abusive behaviour. However, so far the different initiatives aimed at criminalising this practice have come up against resistance from the government.
In this context, the first criminal case relating to bullying is of great importance because it sets a precedent for bullying to be treated as a criminal offence in cases of special gravity.