23 March 2018
Protection against workplace stress is also afforded to individuals under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (the so-called ‘Stalker Act'). The Act provides that it is unlawful for a person to cause another person harassment, alarm or distress by a ‘course of conduct'.
Many stress at work cases arise out of workplace bullying, which might amount to harassment. In two recent cases, the court held that bullying was ‘a course of conduct', amounting to harassment of the employee, which the bully ‘knew or ought to have known amounted to harassment'. There was no requirement that the employee suffered any physical or psychological damage, and the harassment did not have to be linked to any existing discrimination legislation.
In both cases, the employer was held to be vicariously liable for the conduct of the bullies. It is no defence for the employer to say it did not authorise the offending course of action, that it tried to prevent it or that it could not have foreseen the anxiety suffered. The only cure is prevention. With this in mind, employers should review their harassment policies and do all they can to prevent such behaviour.