At Work: Human Resources - It's the law

Emma Burrows, head of the employment group at Trowers & Hamlins, solicitors

A recent case created a precedent that could open the floodgates to claims about bullying at work.

Although bullying at work claims are nothing new, they are likely to become increasingly common following the recent House of Lords case Majrowski v Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Trust.

Before the case, the only way for an employee to bring a claim for bullying or harassment was by means of a claim of negligence or one of discrimination.

In order to bring a claim for negligence, the employee must show that they have suffered a "reasonably foreseeable" physical or psychiatric injury. Under the discrimination legislation it is necessary for an employee to show that the harassment they were subject to was carried out in connection with sex, race, disability, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.

The central issue in Majrowski was whether an employer could be vicariously liable for acts of harassment committed by one of its employees against another in contravention of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which aimed to tackle the practice of stalking. Under the principle of vicarious liability, an employer can be liable for a wrong committed by its employees in the course of their employment.

The Act states: "A person must not pursue a course of conduct (a) which amounts to the harassment of another, and (b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other."

The House of Lords decided that it was possible for Mr Majrowski to bring a claim for harassment under the Act and concluded that it was possible for an employer to be vicariously liable for an employee's breach of the Act.

It will now be possible for employees to use the Protection from Harassment Act to bring stand-alone claims for bullying at work and harassment. An employee will have a period of six years to bring a claim under the Act, and they are entitled to damages for "any anxiety caused by the harassment and any financial loss resulting from the harassment".

The measure of damages will fall somewhere between £500 and £25,000, depending on the nature and severity of the harassment.

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