The recent £230,000 damages payout for bullying shows victims are hitting the UK's bully culture where it hurts most - in the pocket. Helen Boddy looks at the latest developments
Swansea teacher Alan Powis hit the headlines last month after he received one of the highest compensation payouts ever for bullying at work - at £230,000. The out-of-court settlement by Neath Port Talbot Council was awarded for damage to his health caused by a nervous breakdown following years of alleged mistreatment at the hands of his former head teacher, and his eventual sacking.
The case comes as a reminder that bullying constitutes a serious problem for employers. Not only can it lead to significant costs in terms of absenteeism, staff turnover and reduced productivity, but it is also one of the key triggers for work-related stress and personal injury claims of the type brought by Powis.
A large-scale survey published last month illustrates just how big a problem bullying is in the UK workforce. It found that more than one in five employees reported having been bullied at least once in the past year. The findings, by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, also indicate that well over 1.5 million workers could be the victims of repeated bullying at work.
The survey, which covered 3,500 British workers of different grades, found bullying was not only the experience of employees lower down the hierarchy. Twenty-four per cent of middle managers and 17 per cent of senior managers said they had been bullied, suggesting just how entrenched the problem might be.
Furthermore, it showed men are as likely to be bullied as women; age did not seem to be a factor, nor did the size of the employing organisation.
However, there were, unsurprisingly, marked differences between industry sectors. The public healthcare sector was the worst offender - 28 per cent said they had been bullied at least once - and retail reported least occurrences at 18 per cent.
As matters stand, employees have little statutory protection against bullying in itself, unless it is linked to their gender, race or disability. For any bullying claim to be successful, an employee has to establish that it was so severe it caused personal injury, and that the employer should have foreseen the risk to health. This needs to be supported by medical evidence. The only alternative is for an employee to resign and claim construc