Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council v Stanley, EAT,
20 January 2005
Stanley started working as a lifeguard in 1996, and complained in 1999 about being bullied by her colleague, Appleby. No action was taken other than an informal discussion of the complaint with Appleby.
Stanley and other employees made further complaints against Appleby, who objected to the matter being dealt with informally. At Appleby’s request, a formal investigation began under the Dignity at Work Policy, introduced by Darwen Borough Council in 2002, and which was agreed with the relevant trade unions. The employees, including Stanley, provided the relevant information, but Stanley’s complaints were not investigated.
The report concluded Appleby’s behaviour unintentionally undermined certain individuals. Stanley’s manager knew that the bullying was continuing, and in January 2003, Stanley went off work suffering from stress and anxiety, but nothing was done.
In March, an incident occurred which led to Stanley being disciplined. She resigned, stating she had been put in an impossible position since the original investigation’s conclusion. She brought a successful claim of constructive unfair dismissal and was awarded 23,032.
The tribunal held that the council had allowed and/or permitted Stanley to be subjected to bullying and harassment, and had failed to investigate her complaints adequately. This was a breach of the duty of mutual trust and confidence by the council, resulting in a fundamental breach of contract, entitling Stanley to resign.
The council unsuccessfully appealed. Although Stanley had not made use of the policy herself, this did not override the council’s obligation to take reasonable steps to support its staff in times of difficulty.