Indira Das-Gupta looks at harassment in the workplace - and how best to deal with it.
People who work in the voluntary sector are usually seen as caring and compassionate, the kind of people you might expect to take a dim view of bullying. Yet according to Tim Field, who runs Bully Online, a free advice service for people who have been bullied at work, the number of sector workers who contact him is on the rise.
"The most common cases seem to happen in small charities where the bully is the chief executive and the victim has nowhere to turn because there isn't even an HR department," he says. "In these cases, the bullying often seems to be a response to financial pressures within the organisation."
According to recent figures compiled by the Confederation of British Industry, stress-related sickness costs employers between £530 and £545 per employee every year. Separate figures by the Health and Safety Executive show that six million working days are lost each year as a result of stress caused by bullying, job insecurity, shift work and long hours.
An unwillingness to recognise - or the deliberate denial of - the existence of the bully is common, according to Field, who believes that the most pragmatic solution for someone who has been bullied at work is to leave.
He says: "In at least 98 per cent of cases that I deal with, the employer, once alerted to the bullying, will take no action against the bully. Employers need to recognise and admit that bullying exists, that it costs money and that bullies need to be dealt with and dismissed through the disciplinary process. Sadly, this is extremely rare."
James Carmody from Reculver Solicitors takes a similar view. He says: "If an employee is bullied in the workplace, the only real legal remedy is to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal. For obvious reasons, this is a risky step to take. It has the further disadvantage that, even if successful, an employment tribunal cannot make an award for injury to feelings."
Of the 10,000 cases across all sectors he deals with each year, Field says only 2 per cent make it to an employment tribunal. Half succeed, and of those only half again manage to win compensation amounting to more than just the legal bill.
If the bullying results in psychological injury, however, the employee might be able to bring a personal injury claim against the employer. If the bullying is discriminatory on grounds of race, sex, disability, sexual orientation or religious or political belief, it might be possible to bring a claim of unlawful discrimination in the employment tribunal.
The Court of Appeal's decision in Majrowski v Guy's & St Thomas's NHS Trust earlier this year has resulted in another claim that employees can bring as a result of workplace bullying. In that case, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, enacted to crack down on stalkers, was used to claim compensation from the trust for the bullying and intimidation of a colleague at work.
For advice on preventing bullying go to www.bullyon line.org.