The costs of bullying

Bullying and harassment in the workplace are detrimental not only to the individuals affected but also to the organisation, which can incur significant costs and suffer damage to its reputation. Employees who are bullied or harassed in the workplace can potentially bring a number of claims against their employer:

(a) Discrimination based statutory vicarious liability;

(b) Breach of contract (this could be a breach of the implied term relating to trust and confidence, or of an express term of the employee’s contract);

(c) Negligence for breach of the employer’s duty of care resulting in personal injury; 

(d) Breach of a statutory duty placed on an employer (for example, a breach of the employer's duty to provide a safe place and system of work under the Health and Safety At Work etc Act 1974); and

(e) Vicarious liability under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Employers need to ensure that they have adequate policies for dealing with workplace bullying and that these are actively promoted and enforced. To bring home to individuals the unacceptability of bullying, employers may wish to remind staff that, in addition to acts of bullying being gross misconduct for which dismissal may result, they may also be personally financially liable to the victim. A recent employment tribunal case provides a useful illustration of this for individual line managers.

A 34-year old Vietnamese woman suffered workplace bullying. In particular, her line manager had posted a humiliating nickname on a notice board and used it as his internet password. Following her race and sex discrimination claim, she was awarded £15,000 for injury to feelings from her employer plus £3,000 aggravated damages and interest of £2,417. In addition, the individual line manager was also ordered to personally pay £2,000 damages for injury to feelings plus interest!