Landmark ruling holds boss personally liable for bullying

A landmark tribunal case in which a senior manager was held personally liable for harassment will help employers fight discrimination by letting perpetrators know it will hit them where it hurts – in their wallets.

In the case of Miles v Gilbank, the Court of Appeal upheld a tribunal’s decision that Maxine Miles, the senior manager of a hair salon, was personally liable for an award of £25,000 for injury to feelings for a “vicious” bullying campaign committed by her and other managers under her control.

Janine Gilbank, who was pregnant at the time, had been awarded the money after it emerged she had been bullied, taunted and prevented from taking rest breaks. When she voiced fears of a miscarriage, she was told to carry on working.

As a senior manager, Miles had “consciously fostered and encouraged a discriminatory culture to grow up”, which targeted Gilbank, the judgment said.

Matt Witheridge, operations manager at the Andrea Adams Trust anti-bullying charity, said the decision was good news in the campaign against workplace bullying. “Bullying destroys lives and people should be held personally responsible if they are found to have encouraged it,” he said. “This ruling will force managers to become more aware of what is happening in their organisation.”

David Dalgarno, partner at law firm McDermott Will & Emery, said the case should act as a warning to employers to remind senior managers of their responsibilities. “Companies should ensure that managers have had up-to-date equal opportunities training. Such training should raise awareness of the potential for personal exposure,” he said.

Last year’s survey of 1,400 HR professionals into workplace bullying by Personnel Today and the Andrea Adams Trust revealed that almost 70% have witnessed or are aware of bullying in their organisation.

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