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Protection from harassment

BY John Wilson
Employment law
BG Purple

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was originally enacted to protect against stalking behaviour.

It provides for both civil and criminal sanctions. It has however, on occasions, been used by employees arguing that they deserve protection from harassing behaviour at work. In order to qualify for protection under the Act, the individual must show that they have been subject to a 'course of conduct' causing alarm or distress to the victim. A course of conduct means conduct happening on at least two occasions and must be of sufficient seriousness to justify criminal sanctions if necessary.

While the case of Iqbal v Dean Manson Solicitors does not deal directly with harassment within the workplace, it does give an indication of the low threshold that the courts seem to be setting for potential complainants. In this case, Mr Iqbal worked briefly for DMS before setting up on his own. It seems to have been a less than amicable parting of the ways and following the departure, DMS sent Mr Iqbal three letters in the course of litigation in which they questioned his professional integrity, advised that they would be raising issues in relation to his conduct in court proceedings, misleading the Law Society and so forth. The county court and High Court judges struck out the claim on the basis that, while the last letter from DMS might amount to harassment, the first two did not cross the threshold. The Court of Appeal however overturned this decision, holding that, taken cumulatively, the three letters did disclose a course of conduct amounting to unlawful harassment.

While the Court stressed that communications between solicitors during litigation will not normally give rise to claims under the 1997 Act, the communication in this case went beyond what could reasonably be expected. It is also a salutary reminder to employers that, there are other routes open to employees who believe that they are the victims of bullying and harassing behaviour and not simply those available under unfair dismissal legislation.

 

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