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Employers may be liable in law if their staff are bullied at work

Ms Hammond said "Until now, a claim against an employer for bullying had to rely on the fact that the employer knew, or should have known, that bullying by a boss or colleague was occurring. Claimants also had to prove that the bullying caused them to develop a recognised psychiatric illness.

The new ruling allows employees to sue even if bosses were unaware of the bullying and could not be expected to know about it. Workers will be able to sue for anxiety and stress and need not have developed a psychiatric illness".

The case in question was brought by an employee of an NHS Trust who claimed he was bullied by his line manager because he was gay. The claim was made under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which was originally passed to curb stalkers.

Harassment, however, is not defined under the Act and the courts have held that it covers tabloid newspaper campaigns and animal rights activism. Now the law lords have decided that an employer can be held vicariously liable (and liable to pay damages to the victim) as long as the bullying is closely connected with the duties of the job.

Ms Hammond went on "The decision opens the way for aggrieved employees to sue their employers if they are bullied at work. Ignorance of the bullying will constitute no defence for the employer who, if it loses the case, will be liable for damages for the affected employees anxiety and stressed".

"In order to protect themselves against the possibility of such claims succeeding employers will need to show they have taken positive steps to eradicate bullying and the culture of bullying in their organisations. I would urge all employers to take advice on this issue" Ms Hammond concluded.

Further Information: Charlotte Hammond

Bennett Griffin LLP, 11 Sea Lane, Ferring, BN12 5DR

Tel: 01903 229999 Email: ceh@bennett-griffin.co.uk

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