Brain Food: Workplace rights - A red card for bullies

The 1997 Protection from Harassment Act (PHA), a law originally targeting stalkers, has been interpreted more broadly by the courts. Following a ruling in July by the House of Lords, it now provides a powerful remedy for employees who are bullied or mistreated at work. The case concerned a hospital worker who claimed he was persistently humiliated and harassed by his departmental manager. Their lordships decided not only that the case could proceed under the PHA but that the hospital, as the manager's employer, would be 'vicariously liable' for his actions. Current and former staff can bring claims for damages against employers under the Act if their boss or a colleague subjects them to a course of conduct - that is, at least two incidents - causing 'alarm' or 'distress'. This is a much lower hurdle than for a stress-related personal injury claim and also easier to establish in many respects than a harassment claim under discrimination legislation. Bearing in mind that bullying leads to 18 million lost working days a year, with the culprit being a manager in 75% of cases, employers would be wise to dust down their anti-harassment policies - and check the terms of their liability insurance too.

Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin solicitors, e-mail:

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