A ground breaking decision in the House of Lords means that employers can now be held accountable for the behaviour of bullying members of staff and it would seem that there is very little they can do about it. Good news for claimants…potentially awful news for employers.
The case of Majrowski involved someone who was bullied at work but who rather than following the usual process of applying to an employment tribunal made a claim under the Protection from Harassment Act.
The Protection from Harassment Act came into place in 1997 as part of the anti-stalking legislation. Because of the nature of the behaviour it was trying to prevent it had to be quite tough and it had to give Judges a wide scope in defining “harassment.” Although it’s been incredibly effective in cases such as domestic abuse what no one seems to have noticed until recently is that the same laws can be applied in the workplace.
The new ruling means that if other members of staff or even customers are harassed or bullied by an employee then their employers can be sued because of it. The law is particularly harsh because there only has to be two instances of harassment for a claim to be made. More importantly the employers are “strictly liable “ which means that they have no real defence to any claim brought against them.
The decision means that the House of Lords have basically created an entirely new way that employers can be sued. Previously if an employee was harassed then they only had three months to bring a claim, now they have six years, so an employer could be sued by someone who left the firm as far back as 2000. The person bringing the claim doesn’t even have to show that they suffered any injury as a result of the behaviour only that they suffered anxiety. This is something so difficult to prove that it doesn’t normally warrant compensation. However the PFHA is the exception to the rule and claims will probably range from as little as £500 to as high as £25,000.
The best course of action for employers is to make everyone in their company aware that any form of bullying of harassment is unacceptable, that it should be reported immediately and that it will be dealt with seriously. However because of the strict liability aspect of any claims the most important advice is to check insurance cover. Currently most cover only extends to bodily injury or disease not claims for anxiety.
Obviously if companies are uninsured then they will have to deal with the claim themselves. It is probable that the majority of claims will be suitable for the small claims court so employers wanting to know what to do if a claim is brought against them or people wanting to know how to start a claim should therefore check out the dyj small claims guide or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org