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Mobbing in Italy, when the workplace is unsafe

While this word doesn’t have a literal translation in Italian, its effects are quite real.


Mobbing is a behavior that happens in the workplace. When it happens, it makes the workplace unsafe and unfriendly.

Mobbing, explained

This is an intimidating and aggressive behavior towards an employee. The perpetrators are either the employer or a coworker. There is no one and only reason for this. It can be envy, racism, or political issues. Or even a rejection.

The numbers in Italy

The Istituto Superiore per la Prevenzione E la Sicurezza del Lavoro (ISPEL) studied this phenomenon. Its survey showed that 65% of workers in northern Italy have suffered from mobbing. As opposed to the 52% in the South. Moreover, data shows that the most frequent victims are clerks (79%). Furthermore, Ispesl determined that this behavior is expensive. Especially to employers, since victims of mobbing usually are 70% less productive.

How to recognize mobbing in the workplace

There are a few steps that lead to mobbing, according to Leymann researchers. These are the telltale signs that something is going on. And it’s time to act to defend the employee.

  • The condition zero. A pre-phase, in which conflict is everywhere. The workplace is filled with accepted conflict and competitiveness. This type of workplace mentality can be the base for mobbing. This is when coworkers compete fight each other, instead of collaborating. Still, in this phase there is no desire to destroy the other.
  • Phase I, the targeted conflict. This is when the perpetrator identifies a victim.
  • Phase II, when the mobbing starts. This is when the victim starts feeling uncomfortable.
  • Phase III, when the victim starts developing health issues related to mobbing. Of course, these can be psychological.
  • Phase IIII, when everyone else finds out about it. And, usually, the HR Department doesn’t know how to react.
  • The final phases include worse health risks. Then, the victim completely leaves the workplace.

Indeed, with mobbing, the victim gives up. Not the perpetrator.

How to protect employees

Rather than considering resignation, victims can gather proof. Like witnesses or documentation to prove the abuse. Another solution is to take legal action, since Italian law has finally been updated. In 1999, for the first time the term mobbing entered the courts.

During the 1999 trial, a woman sued her employer fo damages, as she developed severe depression. It was theresult of the strain of being continuously insulted by her direct superior.

It is important to understand, though,  that there is no law specifically dealing with mobbing in Italy. However, there are other laws that safeguard the rights of the worker. In fact, the Italian Constitution acknowledges that health, safety and the overall protection of a worker in all its forms are  fundamental  rights for every Italian citizen. When taking legal action it is important to consider who the mobber is. If a colleague is the person to blame, he or she can be sued for responsabilità extracontrattuale (non-contractual liability), that is, when a person causes unfair damage to another (ex art. 2043 of the civil code).

When mobbing is perpetrated by an employer, they will have to answer for breach of the working contract which requires that the physical and moral integrity of the worker to be maintained. A common type of mobbing is sexual harassment (molestie sessuali) by an employer or colleague. In Italy, sexual harassment includes not only indecent behavior, but also the so-called proposte indecenti (indecent propositions).

Although it is important to underline that cases of mobbing only occur in 4% of workplaces, and that the number of occurrences in Italy is below the European average, mobbing still is a phenomenon which affect many people in the country, against which awareness is probably the best defense.

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