Veakins v Keir Islington Ltd 2009 EWCA Civ 1288

Ms Veakins was employed as an electrician. She was on sick leave for depression from September 2005 until June 2006 when she decided to terminate her employment. From July to September 2005 she had a new supervisor. Ms Veakins felt that she was picked on and that her life was made hell by Ms Lavy. She brought an action for damages for harassment and claimed that her employer was vicariously liable for the acts of Ms Lavy. At the first instance her claim was dismissed although her evidence was not challenged as the judge decided that the proven acts did not amount to harassment. The Court of Appeal held however that the proven conduct crossed the line into conduct which was oppressive and unreasonable which it considered would in the event of a prosecution be sufficient to establish criminal liability. Although it was never intended that the Act should cover workplace harassment, when deciding whether the conduct complained of constitutes harassment within s.1 of the Act the primary focus should be whether the conduct is oppressive and unacceptable and of an order which would sustain criminal liability. Her appeal was therefore allowed.

Key point: It would be unusual for a harassment case to be brought outside the Employment Tribunal but where it is, employers should avoid the risk of claims by dealing with the harassment at the source where conduct goes beyond the banter of everyday life.