Mark Stevens stands in for Adam Bernstein and considers matters relating to bullying and harassment in the workplace, how to avoid incidents and how to deal with such occurrences should they happen
Workplace bullying and harassment is a serious issue and allegations can have serious consequences for employers and employees alike. The problem is widespread according to various surveys, including one conducted by SME Loans in 2020. Of 2,000 UK employees surveyed, it found that some 23% had been bullied at work, 25% made to feel left out in the workplace, and 12% struggled to make friends at their place of work.
Employers that choose to ignore the matter may find themselves appearing before an employment tribunal. Indeed, the coach and bus sector recently (in 2023) witnessed an employment tribunal case that doesn’t look at all good for the firm involved, A&A Coach Travel Ltd.
According to the facts, Mr T Holland v A&A Coach Travel Ltd, a bus driver with Asperger’s syndrome won more than £30,000 in compensation after being harassed and repeatedly victimised. The driver, Mr Holland, was found to be harassed for his disability in a WhatsApp group chat used by his company. He was threatened with dismissal and blackmailed by his colleagues.
It emerged that: a manager attempted to coerce him into lying to vehicle insurers about damage done to his car at work; A&A employees approached the DVLA with false complaints about Holland’s fitness to drive; a new employer was falsely informed that Holland had been responsible for a number of accidents at his previous firm; and another employer received a note from staff at A&A that implied Holland was a danger to women.
The company was described by the judge as “having behaved in a disruptive, vexatious or unreasonable manner.”
The legal position
The term bullying is often used interchangeably with harassment. However, the Equality Act 2010 gives harassment a very specific meaning, and it is important that employers are aware of the difference. The Act defines harassment as “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.”[…]
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