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How do you know you are being bullied at work?

Bullying at work is abusive behavior which is repeated whether it is verbal, physical or otherwise conducted by one or more persons at your place of work. Although a one off incident can make an individual feel undermined at the time it is not considered bullying unless it is repeated inappropriate behavior.

When you are a member of staff at a work place you should be made to feel safe and respected.If you feel you are being mistreated or undermined by any other colleagues you are not alone.

Are you entitled to a claim

If you have been bullied at work (undermined or mistreated) on more than one occasion and you have informed your employer about this and they have done nothing to help or prevent the bullying from happening again you may be entitled to make a claim. Here at Broad Yorkshire Law we will take your claim on and try to the best of our abilities to progress your claim and prevent this from happening to any other colleagues in your workplace.

How we can help you

It is an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe and suitable environment for employees to work in and perform their daily duties. If employers are informed of bullying in the workplace and allow it to continue by doing nothing about it, they are in breach of their duty. Here at Broad Yorkshire Law we aim to provide all clients with help and assistance during a hard time which can include being bullied at work.

We first begin by contacting your employer to make clear dialogue with regards to providing support with any grievance procedures that may need to be undertaken. We will then pursue your claim further to help you get the best outcome.

Liability

Duty

  1. Your employer owes you a duty of care at common law to keep employees reasonably safe and to take reasonable steps to protect them from any foreseeable risk of injury, whether psychiatric or otherwise. The duty of care is owed both in tort and in contract.
  2. The duty to protect health and safety incorporates a duty of care to protect the employee from bullying and harassment. This can be expressed as an implied contractual term that the employee will not either directly, or through any line manager, bully and harass the employee and will protect the employee from harassment by their co-workers. Is your employer turning a blind eye to the problems?
  3. In Wigan Borough Council v. Davies [1979] RLR 127 Arnold J. in the EAT upheld the decision by an Industrial Tribunal that there was an implied term in the applicant's contract of employment that: "The employer shall render reasonable support to an employee to ensure that the employee can carry out the duties of his job without harassment and disruption by fellow workers."
  4. In Waters v. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner [2000] 1 WLR 1607, Lord Hutton confirmed that a person employed under an ordinary contract of employment can have a valid cause of action in negligence against her employer if the employer fails to protect her against victimisation and harassment which causes physical or psychiatric injury.

Bullying and Harassment

  1. It is important to have regard to the definition of bullying which is now widely accepted. ACAS in its guidance "Bullying and Harassment at Work - Guidance for Employees", noted that "bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour... through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient."
  2. The ACAS Guidance gives a useful checklist of examples of behaviour considered to be bullying and harassment, which includes:
    • Spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone by word or behaviour;
    • Copying memos that are critical about someone to others who do not need to know.
    • Ridiculing or demeaning someone - picking on them or setting them up to fail;
    • Exclusion or victimisation;
    • Unfair treatment;
    • Overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position;
    • Making threats or comments about job security without foundation;
    • Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism;
    • Preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities.
  3. It can be argued in some cases that the employer is vicariously liable for the actions of the bully. In Lister v. Hesley Hall Limited [2001] 2 WLR 1311 Lord Steyn noted that an employer is liable for acts which he has not authorised, provided they are so connected with acts he has authorised, that they may rightly be regarded as modes - although improper modes - of doing them. Traditionally employers may have argued that a bully is on a frolic of their own. This is particularly so where the behaviour would breach the employer's own anti-bullying code. However Lister itself concerned the liability of an employer for personal injury, the abuse of children by its employees. Obviously, the abuse was not in the usual course of the employee's employment. But the opportunity to abuse arose out of the employment. The House of Lords held that the employer was vicariously liable for these intentional, unlawful acts by the employee. An employer will therefore be normally vicariously liable for bullying by line managers and others within the workplace, even if systematically this is frowned upon by them.

Foreseeability of Injury

  1. Foreseeability of injury must be proven and this would include foreseeability of psychiatric injury. So, was it foreseeable that you would suffer psychiatric harm?
  2. Any absences from work due to work related stress/anxiety will help to support this type of claim. The exact nature of the injury does not have to be known. It is enough that some injury was foreseeable. It hopefully can be argued that, having regard to the level of intimidation and bullying which was faced by the victim, that it is foreseeable that they may well suffer some form of injury including psychiatric injury.

Protection from Harassment Act 1997

  1. Section 1 of the 1997 Act provides that: "A person must not pursue a course of conduct - (a) Which amounts to harassment of another, and (b) Which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other."
  2. By section 7 of the 1997 Act a course of conduct must involve conduct on at least 2 occasions (subsection 3).
  3. Section 3 of the 1997 Act provides civil remedies in respect of section 1 including injunctions to prevent a repeat of the conduct and, most relevantly in the context of workplace harassment, compensation. Section 3(2) provides that damages may be awarded for (among other things) any anxiety caused by the harassment and any financial loss resulting from the harassment.
  4. In Majrowski v. St Guy's and St Thomas's NHS Trust [2006] UKHL 34 the House of Lords accepted that an employer would be vicariously liable for harassment carried out by its employees contrary to the 1997 Act.
  5. Claims under the 1997 Act in respect of bullying are different to normal common law claims in contract or tort for workplace stress. First, foreseeability of injury is not required in order to establish a claim under the 1997 Act. Secondly, it is not necessary to establish a medically recognised psychiatric condition. Alarm and distress is all that is needed.
  6. 1997 Act claims require a course of conduct which requires at least 2 separate incidents. In Conn v. Sunderland [2007] EWCA Civ. 1492 the court indicated that the touchstone for recognising what is harassment for the purposes of section 1 and 3 will be whether the conduct is of such gravity as to justify the sanctions of the criminal law, i.e. that the conduct involved serious incidents. In Green v. DB Group Services (UK) Limited [2006] EWHC 1898 (QB) the Judge held that playground-like spiteful behaviour in subjecting colleagues to silent treatment and verbal abuse did each constitute harassment. Furthermore, the conduct of the line manager also constituted harassment in that there was a concerted campaign to advance the view of the Defendant at the expense of the Claimant. There was aggressiveness, pettiness that manifested itself in a number of ways and unjustified interference and criticism of work. There was domineering, disrespectful, dismissive, confrontationary behaviour designed to undermine and belittle the Claimant in the view of others. The Judge held that this conduct amounted to harassment within the meaning of the 1997 Act. It occurred frequently, was targeted and was calculated to cause distress.
  7. What therefore is required is a well-evidenced long and deliberate campaign.
  8. Thus a duty of care exists under the Protection from Harassment Act, and it may be possible to argue that duty was breached, and the Defendant is liable for the breach.

Injury

  1. We will need to prove the following injury (and causation):
    1. (1) Psychological Injury, for the common law/contract action, and
    2. (2) Anxiety and distress, for the 1997 Act claim.