Bullying remedies

Alternative way of dealing with bullying


If you are bullied at work, simply call the police
By Stephen Levinson
Too many people put up with vile treatment. There is no need

BULLYING seems rampant in the workplace. The recently reported death of Hannah Kirkham, the KFC worker who committed suicide after being vilely tormented at work, illustrates the need for bullies to be put in their place. In addition, behind the many complaints of sex discrimination in the City and elsewhere are tales of bullying managers.

Many civil law remedies are time-consuming and expensive. Employment tribunals lack a coherent code of law giving victims a remedy without resigning. This is especially so if the bullying is not based on one of the protected categories of discrimination law, for example race or sex. In any case, such claims are often a tepid response to such a basic assault on a fundamental right — the right to work without harassment and to preserve dignity. It may be an adequate remedy for a City trader to claim millions against her employing bank, but others are left in the cold.

The time has come for victims, and employers too, to make use of the remedies provided by the criminal law. In short, if you are being bullied at work, call the police. Hannah Kirkham might still be alive if she had done just that, and those who abused her might have been heavily fined or even imprisoned for their conduct.

The sight of a few miscreants facing the possibility of being hauled off to jail would have a salutary effect on other workplace bullies and could contribute to a long overdue improvement of the atmosphere in thousands of other shops, offices and factories. Even the City bully-boys might just think twice after they had seen a colleague helping with inquiries.

The criminal law provides a surprising number of remedies, many of which are hardly ever used in the employment context but that could work well to restrain the workplace bully.

To put an immediate stop to harassment, injunctions are available under the Prevention of Harassment Act 1997. One employer has already used these provisions to protect staff from an abusive and threatening director. Oxford University used the Act to protect its employees (among others) from harassment by animal rights protestors. But in addition to this civil remedy employees may also apply to get their co-workers prosecuted because the Act makes conduct which amounts to harassment a criminal offence. If an employer will not listen, or internal disciplinary procedures do not work, the police can be notified and will refer the facts to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision on prosecution. One advantage is that there is nothing to pay for this service. If a conviction is obtained the court can also make a restraining order to protect the victim, or any other person mentioned in the order, from further conduct that amounts to either harassment or causing fear of violence. In an appropriate case, the order can be indefinite.

Misuse of the telephone is a common cause of complaint. There are various remedies available here. The traditional heavy breather or those who make repeated silent calls have been liable to conviction for assault since the House of Lords decision in R v Burstow in 1997. The Malicious Communications Act 1988 covers letters, any form of electronic communication and any other article that conveys a message that is indecent or grossly offensive; a threat; or a message that the sender knows or believes to be false. An offence is committed if the sender’s purpose or one of his purposes is to cause distress or anxiety. This would include an offending message sent to an employer by one employee about another. The offence is caused by sending the message and there is no need for the message to reach the intended victim.

If an attempt is made to avoid liability by getting someone else to send the message the perpetrator may also be caught by Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 which covers messages that are grossly offensive or indecent, obscene or menacing in character. Under this Act another offence is also caused if a message that the sender knows to be false is sent “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety”. Between them these two Acts give wide scope to the prosecutor asked to deal with offending calls.

Under the Public Order Act 1984 another criminal offence of intentional harassment is committed if someone uses threatening, abusive or insulting language or behaviour or uses writing, a sign or any other visible representation that is threatening, abusive or insulting and which causes another person harassment, alarm or distress or was intended to do so. In addition, racially or religiously aggravated harassment is a separate offence under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Under this Act, if an individual is convicted of an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act or a number of other public order statutes and at the time of the offence or immediately afterwards the offender demonstrates hostility based on the victim’s membership or presumed membership of a racial group or religion, the effect of this Act is to increase the penalties imposed by the court and it is also an additional reason that will justify a restraining order.

Are these Acts the ideal way to tackle bullies at work? Almost certainly not. After the Government’s sidelining of the Dignity at Work Bill, a voluntary campaign against workplace bullying has been launched. This will be backed up by focused research. But the voluntary approach will take time to produce results and, meanwhile, the problem persists. For the bad cases not being tackled now the suggestion is that there are more legal weapons available than many realise. Let’s dish it out to those who deserve it.

The author is an employment partner with Manches LLP
And then they'll take a hour to respond, that's if they'll respond that is. I made a complaint of pupils of a nearby school trespassing and smoking around where I live, and was told that the community liaison officer would attend. That was last year October I think.
That said, there's more I've got done (especially with Consumer Law) by knowing certain rights that aren't common ground.

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