HR professionals must be more proactive if they are to head off a predicted rise in bullying claims, following the recent £800,000 payout to bank administrator Helen Green.
Lawyers believe that the financial implications and the huge publicity generated by the Helen Green v Deutsche Bank case could spark a tide of claims from employees as the rules on bullying and harassment become more widely known.
This, coupled with a House of Lords decision in July that enables workers to use anti-harassment laws to pursue bullying claims, means employers must ensure their policies are watertight.
HR departments will now be on the front line because, under these changes, employers have a duty to prevent workplace bullying, even if management is not aware that it is happening.
Paul Johnston, an employment partner at law firm Robert Muscle, warned that a lack of training and robust policies could leave organisations exposed.
“HR needs to be much more proactive. Training, guidance and support for managers and staff are critical and good HR departments should know that,” he said. “The law places a burden on the employer, so there has to be a culture that embraces equality and fairness in the workplace.”
Johnston said that anti-bullying measures should in no way stop managers being assertive for fear of having claims lodged against them, and argued that training was not being used effectively.
“It is not enough to simply have a well-drafted policy which remains in the HR director’s filing cabinet,” he added.
Simon Coates, head of employment law at solicitors Irwin Mitchell, also warned of the potential for a tide of bullying allegations.
“I think that people are much more aware of their rights around this area,” he said. “It’s essential that employers prevent bullying as they can now be sued for failing in the duty of care to employees.”