“Bullying” Brown puts workplace harassment back on the agenda

In the wake of this week’s allegations against Prime Minister Gordon Brown, bullying in the workplace is firmly back on the agenda and local solicitors Oxley and Coward are giving employers a reminder of the legal implications of failing to tackle the issue.

Research continues to show that bullying at work is soaring and in addition to the huge emotional cost of bullying, defending a tribunal claim costs employers an average of £20,000 and that figure is rising. Last year there were 189,000 tribunal applications – up one third from 2006.2 Reports of bullying have doubled in the past decade and according to a recent survey of 7,000 workers by public sector union Unison, more than one in three had been bullied in the past six months.

Dawn Cherry, Employment Lawyer at Oxley & Coward Solicitors in Rotherham, said: “The allegations against Gordon Brown demonstrate that bullying can cost you in many ways. Aside from the potential costs of litigation, an allegation can damage the reputations of your staff, your organisation and harm company productivity.”

Figures show that 20% of management time is spent in dealing with conflict and 50% of staff who take long term sickness are struggling with bullying issues.1 It’s important that companies take a serious look at how much time their managers spend dealing with conflict, and how much litigation has to be handled by their lawyers.

If there’s a problem, employers need to take action early and deal with negative behaviour head on,” continued Dawn. “As well as avoiding the cost of employment tribunals, a good working environment pays dividends all round.”

Bullying at work is when someone tries to intimidate another worker, often in front of colleagues, and as with Gordon Brown, the allegations are generally made against someone in a more senior position. It is similar to harassment, where someone’s behaviour is offensive in making sexual comments, or abusing someone’s race, religion or sexual orientation.

As well as the more obvious examples of bullying at work like being humiliated in front of colleagues, or physical or verbal abuse, it can include blocking promotion, malicious rumours, or copying memos that are critical of someone to others who do not need to know.

In an article in the Times this week3, comments have been ascribed to Jonathan Baune, head of First Division Association, the union that looks after civil servants claiming that bullying in Whitehall is “rife” and that staff feel they have “little power.” However, as this week has shown, it only takes one high profile case to open up what can become a more serious can of worms.

The legal position with regard to bullying is more complex than discrimination, as there isn’t a separate piece of legislation to deal with it, but there is protection for employees, that employers cannot afford to ignore” added Dawn Cherry.

For example, an employee can claim breach of contract, on the basis that their employer has failed to provide reasonable support to ensure they can fulfil their job without harassment or disruption. Or there may be circumstances for claiming constructive unfair dismissal or by claiming personal injury protection, as employers have a legal duty to take reasonable care to avoid their workers suffering illness or injury,” Dawn concluded.

Are you worried about bullying in the workplace and need Legal advice? For further information and a FREE initial discussion, contact Dawn Cherry at Oxley & Coward Solicitors on 01709 510999, visit www.oxcow.co.uk or e-mail dawn.cherry@oxcow.co.uk

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