Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders


Law on harassment

Q I am a vice principal at a sixth-form college. A situation has arisen with a female non-teaching member of staff, who had a personal relationship with another non-teaching member of staff which she ended approximately 12 months ago. She was married at the time. He left the college shortly afterwards and we thought that was the end of it.

However, he has now set up an abusive website referring to her in extremely derogatory and offensive terms and saying that she is not fit to be involved with students in any way.

He has also written to me, as her manager, suggesting that I take action against her. I can see that this is beginning to affect her health and I am concerned that she may soon be diagnosed with a depressive illness. Is there any action I can take to support her?

A Section 1(1) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 states: "A person must not pursue a course of conduct:
(a) Which amounts to harassment of another, and
(b) Which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other."

It does appear that by setting up this extremely offensive website the former employee is harassing the female member of staff, which can be both a criminal and civil wrong. One option for her is to issue a civil claim for damages and possibly an injunction.

However we believe a better course of action is to seek the assistance of the police, as this is likely to be cheaper and more effective. Beyond that, it would seem that your emotional support during this time will be equally valuable. Referring her to a counsellor may also help.

GP letter for court absence

Q I am a former head, recently retired on ill health grounds. A former pupil is bringing a claim against the local authority on the grounds that the school failed to address adequately his special needs which adversely affected his career prospects. He is seeking substantial compensation.

I am very keen to support the local authority and have provided a witness statement. However, my medical condition means that it would be very difficult if not impossible for me to attend court. The local authority's solicitors have asked me to obtain a letter from my GP confirming this. I do not wish confidential information relating to my medical condition to become available to the former pupil or his family who have created enormous difficulties for both the school and myself in the past.

A It is very much in your interest to obtain this medical evidence from your GP, because normally the court will expect you to attend in person and give your evidence and be cross examined upon it. We suggest, therefore, that you give them the letter but with 'qualified consent', which stipulates that you agree to release this confidential information but only to the legal representatives acting on behalf of the local authority and to the court.

On pause...

Q A certain union has balloted its members at the school on strike action over a pay related dispute. However, they have suspended the action to enable negotiations to continue. If this takes them beyond the 28-day period allowed for industrial action following a ballot, do they have to re-ballot their members?

A No, there is a leading case on precisely this issue and although it was decided before the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, it still applies. The case states unequivocally that where industrial action is suspended solely for the purpose of negotiations there is no requirement upon the union to re-ballot its members.

Still able to claim back

Q About two years ago, I was asked by the school to help move some classroom furniture, desks and chairs mostly. I also had to move a computer which involved lifting it from one desk and passing it over another desk to a colleague. Unfortunately, I leaned too far forwards and felt an intense pain in my lower back. This got worse over night and I had to see my GP the next day, and was signed off work for two weeks.

Although I have been able to resume work, I have been in fairly constant discomfort and recently the pain has got worse again. I was referred to a back specialist who tells me that I suffered a prolapsed disk and it was probably as a result of this incident almost two years ago. Do I have a claim against the school and if so, can I still bring it or have I left it too late?

A It is easy to forget that any lifting is potentially dangerous and should be done only where prior training and risk assessments have been carried out. It would seem that you do have a potential claim against the school, which must be insured against such claims. The law says that you have three years from the date of the injury or date of knowledge of the injury to bring your claim so it would seem that you are still well within time.

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