Bullying in the workplace
With national Ban Bullying at Work Day on November 7 looming, a top Yorkshire lawyer has warned more of the regions 170,000 businesses will face their day in court and unlimited payouts.
Simon Coates, national head of employment law at Irwin Mitchell, based at the firm's offices in Queen Street, Leeds, issued his warning after a new ruling allowed employees to bring bullying cases under a law intended as an anti-stalking measure.
Mr Coates is concerned business are not aware of the House of Lords ruling on the Protection from Harassment Act, which means employers can be held liable for workplace harassment even if they were not negligent.
Employment law advice UK
He said: "Bullying in the workplace has become a growing problem in Yorkshire and estimates suggest that more than 700,000 working days in the region are lost to it each year, and up to half of all stress related illnesses are caused by it.
"Until now employment tribunals have been seen as the main avenue for affected employees to seek compensation. This legal breakthrough means employees can pursue claims in court, with potentially unlimited payouts.
"The real danger for Yorkshire businesses is they no longer need to be found negligent for not stopping the bullying, to be forced to pay compensation. Bullied employees can sue bosses even if the company couldn't have been expected to know about it."
It is believed that as many as four out of five workers in Yorkshire have been bullied at some time in their career, but most do not make a complaint, as they do not believe it will be taken seriously.
Workplace bullying lawyers
Mr Coates said: "Victims of workplace bullying are now more likely to take on their employer using the Protection from Harassment Act. Yorkshire bosses should expect to see more cases like this summer's victory for former Deutsche Bank employee, Helen Green, who suffered mental health problems and received more than £800,000 in damages in a personal injury action, after systematic bullying by colleagues.
"The Protection from Harassment Act was brought in to criminalise stalking and includes a six year window for making a claim. In contrast, cases taken to employment tribunals must be made no later than six months after the last alleged incident occurred.
"Under the act, Yorkshire employers may also be liable for claims by third parties who suffer bullying by an employee of the company."
Mr Coates said: "This decision means businesses in the region must be as proactive as possible when combating bullying in the workplace. They should update their anti-bullying policies and ensure they are understood and implemented effectively by all staff.
"Full training should be given to line managers so they can spot and deal with bullying, and a zero tolerance approach must be maintained. Stamping out bullying will benefit businesses and staff alike."
Any companies concerned their anti-bullying policies may not be comprehensive can contact the Irwin Mitchell team on 0370 1500 100.