May 22, 2007

Harassment in the Workplace - Legislation, UK

Legislation was introduced in 1997 following a significant number of very high profile cases involving stalkers. The legislation called the Protection of Harassment Act 1997 was intended to simplify the process of prosecuting those involved in the practice of stalking.

It was never envisaged that the legislation would have any impact within the workplace, it was designed to protect victims from nuisance individuals. However, the ambit of the legislation has been widened significantly by a decision of the House of Lords in August 2006.


The facts of the case,
Majrowski –v- Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Trust, were that Mr Majrowski contended successfully that he had been bullied and harassed by his manager whilst working for the health trust in London.

Mr Majrowski was unable to claim unfair dismissal because the bullying had not resulted in the termination of his employment. He was unable to establish that the bullying in any way amounted to discrimination on the basis of his sex, race, disability, religion or sexual orientation and was consequently unable to bring a claim for discrimination. Mr Majrowski was further unable to show that he had suffered any kind of physical or psychiatric injury which would have been necessary to support a personal injury claim, he could only establish that he had suffered anxiety and distress. However, despite the apparent weakness of Mr Majrowski’s claim the House of Lords determined that he was entitled to compensation under the 1977 Act for the anxiety and distress he had suffered due to the bullying he had experienced at work.


What is equally concerning is that an employee can bring a claim under this Act, unlike claims for discrimination, for up to six years after the harassment was supposed to have occurred. Mr Majrowski brought his claim more than four years after the harassment he had experienced had ended. To make matters worse the claim is brought in the County Court and as such the employer may be responsible for the employee’s legal costs.


Moreover, the claim can be brought regardless as to the efforts, which may have been taken by the employer to ensure that the workplace was free from harassment. An employer may actively seek to ensure that the workplace is a professional environment in which people behave properly towards one another. However, one maverick employee could result in the employer, through no fault of its own, being exposed to the risk of a claim.


It appears that a one off incident by one employee is unlikely to support a claim, but two or more incidents or one incident involving more than one employee will be sufficient. The incident does not have to take place within work, but must occur within the course of employment which would cover work parties and nights out.


It is too early to tell how actively this legislation may be used by harassed employees. However, it is clear from this case and the ever expanding coverage of discrimination law, in particular to cover age as from 1 October, that all employers have to ensure that they have the necessary training and policies in place to try and ensure that harassment and bullying simply does not occur within the workplace
.

By Joe Thornhill, November 29, 2006

1 comment:

Charles Briggs said...

Personal injury no win no fee claim are no different than any other legal case involving negligence. Indeed, the law is designed to protect the public interest so it is only right that when harm is done to another the injured party is provided with compensation of some description.