Employers could face a dramatic rise in compensation payouts after a
landmark legal ruling opened the way for victims of bullying to claim for
mental suffering as well as lost earnings.
The Court of Appeal decided that employment tribunals can now award damages
where there is a real injury to an individual’s feelings or self-respect.
The ruling in the Dunnachie v Kingston-upon-Hull case found that a council
worker reduced to a state of ‘overt’ despair by a bullying boss was entitled to
compensation for the anguish that he suffered.
Judges said that Chris Dunnachie had been unfairly and constructively
dismissed, and they awarded him £10,000 for the mental suffering alone.
Trade union Unison, who represented Dunnachie, warned that employers must
start to tackle workplace bullying or face increasing financial penalties.
Fraser Younson, vice-president of the Employment Lawyers Association, warned
that employers would face more claims from dismissed employees claiming to have
suffered emotional distress.
"All lawyers will argue their client has suffered humiliation because
of dismissal. This will push up the cases of unfair dismissal and employers
will have to get procedures and policies exactly right," he said.
He urged firms to provide more training for managers to eliminate bullying
and ensure the correct grievance policies were being followed.
Jonathan Chamberlain, a partner at law firm Wragge & Co, said the
decision overturned 30 years of settled employment law and would lead to deluge
of ‘nuisance claims’.
Although the maximum £55,000 for unfair dismissal will still apply, awards
could be larger than previously because staff can now claim for injured
feelings as well, he said.
However, the additional compensation will not apply in every case – only
where it is proved there is ‘real injury’ to the employee’s feelings.
Hull City Council has been given leave to appeal to the House of Lords.
By Ross Wigham