Leeds businesses facing workplace bullying tidal wave, warns legal expert

Bullying In The Workplace

11.01.2006

11/01/2006

This week's court martial hearing into allegations of bullying by the commanding officer of a Royal Navy submarine has led a top Yorkshire lawyer to warn businesses in Leeds that bullying in the workplace is reaching tidal wave proportions.

Captain Robert Tarrant, commanding officer of the submarine Talent, is accused of bullying and humiliating his officers while at sea. He faces five charged of ill-treating four officers through repeated, unjustified verbal abuse, which would often reduce crew members to tears.

Bullying in the workplace legal advice

Simon Coates, national head of employment law, based at Irwin Mitchell's offices in Queen Street, Leeds, said: "This current high-profile case is the latest in what is fast becoming a tide of bullying in the workplace allegations and legal action brought by affected employees.

"Recent figures from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) show bullying is a growing problem and costing the economy £4 billion a year in sick leave, law suits, lost productivity and replacing staff who quit because of it."

Many employers do not realise victims of bullying can claim compensation for mental suffering and psychiatric damage as well as financial losses following a landmark ruling in 2004 by the Court of Appeal in a Yorkshire case.

Christopher Dunnachie, a former environmental health officer with Hull City Council, received an award totalling more than £54,000 after enduring a sustained period of harassment and bullying by his line manager, which went unchecked and unrecognised by his employers.

The father of three, who had worked for the council for 17 years when he quit in 2001 was treated so harshly he ended up crouching on an office floor with his hands around his head shouting "no".

Mr Coates said: "While bullying should never be tolerated, the risk of heavy penalties should encourage employers in Leeds to take on their full duty of care for their workforce. Recent legal cases have shown the inherent danger of hiding behind the corporate veil, with bosses increasingly being held accountable for the actions of their employees."

He warned victims were not just junior employees, such as last month's inquest into the death of 18 year old Hannah Kirkham who took an overdose following bullying by her Kentucky Fried Chicken colleagues who allegedly stabbed her in the arm, held a cigarette lighter against her and drew on her face and body with a marker pen.

Mr Coates said: "With the CMI research saying 39 per cent of middle managers and almost a third of directors report being bullied in the last three years, there can be few workplaces in Leeds without a resident bully."

Bullying in the workplace policy

As a solution to the problem, Mr Coates suggests a formal bullying in the workplace policy be developed, demonstrating the commitment of senior management to its contents and stressing bullying and harassment will, on no account, be tolerated.

Examples of unacceptable behaviour should be included, plus assurances confidentiality will be afforded to every complaint.

He said: "This policy doesn't need to be over-elaborate, especially for smaller firms, and there is the opportunity to incorporate it into other personnel policies.

"It should be extended to cover staff working off the premises and highlight that bullying of employees by visitors will also not be tolerated.

"Strong consideration should also be given to highlighting and training staff who can talk to employees about work related problems. They should be instructed on how to deal with such incidences, as all those involved in this sensitive area should tread carefully and know exactly what they are doing."

The Trade Union Congress is calling on the government to produce a new dignity at work bill, which would outlaw bullying and ensure workers had the protection of clear harassment and intimidation policies.

Mr Coates said: "So often we hear, quite rightly, about bullying at school and the impact it has on our children. However, many people fail to appreciate bullying doesn't stop at the school gates.

"Failure to recognise the widespread problem of bullying in the workplace will inevitably lead to hefty penalties and expensive legal proceedings, something businesses in Leeds could easily avoid by standing up to the bullies and putting protective measures in place."

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