Two recent cases have highlighted the hazards to both employers and individuals of bullying and harassment.
The Majrowski case has been decided in the House of Lords in favour of the employee. The key issue was whether the employers, a hospital trust, could be vicariously liable under the Protection from Harassment Act for allowing an employee to bully Mr Majrowski.
The Lords decided that they could, even though there were other remedies available. The implications are considerable, not least because a claim under the Harassment Act can be brought up to six years after the event.
If it is found that the supervisor concerned carried out the bullying 'in the course of employment' then a blameless employer could become liable without any knowledge of what was going on and despite policies against that kind of conduct.
In another case, the personal risk to senior managers was highlighted when the manager of a hairdressing salon was ordered to pay £25,000 for injury to feelings against one of the salon's employees. Admittedly this is an unusual case - the fact that the company had gone out of business and so there was no hope of damages from it weighed with the Court of Appeal.
Any hesitation members may have felt about taking action to control middle managers who bully and harass should be removed by these cases. Schools and colleges must not only discourage and act against bullying and harassment but must prevent it.
Interestingly, in cases of abuse against children, the courts have decided the other way: that schools and colleges are not vicariously responsible for the actions of their staff, since abuse cannot be said to be 'in the course of their duties'.
© 2013 Association of School and College Leaders