Bullying is largely perceived as an issue for schools. But playground bullies grow up, get jobs and often replicate the same behaviour in the workplace. A recent TUC survey indicated that bullying leads to 18 million lost working days a year, with a manager being identified as the bully in 75% of cases. Small wonder that unions have long been campaigning for a Dignity at Work Act, giving staff specific rights not to be bullied, harassed or unfairly criticised. A court ruling in March bolstered protection under existing legislation. Bill Majrowski, an audit co-ordinator for Guy's and St Thomas' NHS trust, claimed he was persistently harassed and humiliated by his line manager. The Court of Appeal allowed the case to proceed under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, a law originally aimed at stalkers. It said employers can be 'vicariously liable' for bullying conduct by the victim's manager or fellow worker if it is closely connected with the employment. Significantly, the claimant does not have to show either that injury was foreseeable or that the employer was at fault. Prudent organisations will (bully) beef up their anti-harassment policies and check whether their employer's liability insurance covers claims under the 1997 Act.
by Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin solicitors, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org