A recent Court of Appeal decision regarding the Protection from Harassment Act has made it tougher for employees to bring the likes of bullying directors and senior managers to justice. This, however, does not mean that companies should shy away from taking a hard line against bullies in the workplace, particularly those who hold a measure of authority – those in senior or management position, for instance.
Many Employment Law specialists are now in agreement that the Court of Appeal has in fact made it more difficult for staff to stand a chance of winning a bullying claim with their latest ruling. But, despite this, employees still have plenty of options when it comes to bullying claims, so the ruling does not mean that companies can simply sit back and do nothing in the hope that the issue will disappear into thin air.
Good legal advice to companies would recommend that it is essential that you investigate and record all complaints and subsequent action thoroughly and interview everyone concerned, otherwise it is the company that could be on the receiving end of a claim, and not the person who is being held responsible.
A test case two years ago found that an employee could successfully claim bullying under the Protection from Harassment Act if they could prove incidents had happened on at least two occasions. But the Court of Appeal has since ruled that these incidents had to be ‘oppressive and unacceptable, amounting to criminal conduct’, rather than simply ill-tempered or inappropriate.
Although this can be seen to indicate that the courts are now taking a more robust approach in determining what is harassment in the workplace, there’s no room for complacency if allegations of bullying are made by staff. Complacency could be the difference between quickly disproving any allegations of bullying made by staff and entering into elongated, time-consuming legal battles.
A good way to do this is to have an anti-bullying policy in place and make sure all staff are aware of it. If allegations of bullying are proved to be true, it could be seen as advisory to take disciplinary action against those involved – whether they are directors or shop-floor staff. If a director is involved, make sure that your investigation is not viewed as a cover up just to protect a fellow member of the board. You must also ensure that the person who is investigating the case is at a sufficiently senior level in the company for their actions to be taken seriously.
It is also worth paying regular attention to updates and changes in the law, even if it is just by reading the paper and checking a couple of key websites for the most important information, as the law is something which changes on a regular basis. As anybody who has dealt with them knows, legal issues tend to be extremely complex and it is always, therefore, worth seeking legal advice from a reputable company if you are in any doubt as to where you stand in relation to the current Protection from Harassment Act or, indeed, any other acts.