Disgruntled employees and customers can sometimes wreak havoc in businesses.
In 2001, an ex-employee was reported to have stalked his former boss. Among the many things the ex-employee did was to send his former boss – on the death anniversary of the former boss’s baby boy – a baby greeting card and a baby rattle. The High Court ordered an injunction, relying on the common law tort of harassment.
Last year, an insurance policyholder was reported to have stalked his insurers by sending emails and making telephone calls using vulgar and threatening language. His reason? He was dissatisfied with the insurers’ refusal to pay out on his claim. The High Court refused to follow the earlier decision, and held that a law against harassment must be delineated and legislated by Parliament.
Happily, Parliament has introduced legislation to bring relief to companies and individuals who are the victims of stalkers and harassers. It also brings to an end the tort of harassment.
The Protection from Harassment Bill, first read in Parliament in March 2014, criminalises threatening, abusive or insulting words, behaviour or communication. The Bill also criminalises threats of violence against people, and the use of indecent, threatening, abusive or insulting words or communication against a public servant.
Stalking is also criminalised. Stalking includes surveilling, interfering with property of, or loitering near the residence or workplace of the victim. It also covers the doing of those acts in relation to someone whose safety or well-being the victim is seriously concerned with.
Anyone found guilty of such behaviour may be imprisoned and/or fined.
In addition, the Bill proposes to allow victims to sue their harassers in civil court for damages. Victims can also obtain a protection order against their harassers, and in exceptional cases, an expedited protection order.
Importantly for businesses, the Bill will empower the court to restrain the publication of false statements of fact about any person. In that regard, the court is also empowered to act against persons whose names are unknown, so long as those persons may be identified by an internet location address, website, username, email address or other unique identifier. The implication is that if an anonymous poison-pen message is circulated on the internet or in social media about, say, the chief executive of a company, then legal action may be taken to stop it, if it contains false statements.