What does an employee need to do in a claim for bulling and harassment?

For those of you reading this article and wondering whether to resign at work over a colleague’s constant criticisms or negative jibes, you may wish to think twice before tendering that resignation and issuing a claim against your employer.

The Authority in Talbot v Geeks on Wheels has made it quite clear that allegations of bullying in the workplace will only be taken seriously if an employee can provide examples of the improper behaviour with such sufficient specificity that it cannot be questioned.

Talbot v Geeks on Wheels:

Mr T complained of being made to work in a hostile environment caused by the comments and behaviour of the company’s CEO. He felt that he was being unfairly targeted for performance related issues and reprimanded on a daily basis for trivial matters. Mr T asserted that criticism of his work continued to such an extent that it would often lead to the obligatory telling off each morning – it even became a standing joke among colleagues if morning tea had arrived without his daily summons to the CEO’s office!

"He felt that he was being unfairly targeted for performance related issues and reprimanded on a daily basis for trivial matters."

 

In March of this year, it all become a little too much for Mr T who then met with his doctor and was certified as medically unfit to work. He was diagnosed with work-related stresses and never returned to the workplace again.

So why therefore, did Mr T’s claim for unfair dismissal fail when (in his own words) he “had to stop...to save [his] own sanity”?

The Decision:

Whilst the Authority did not necessarily disbelieve his claims of bullying, it was challenged by opposing evidence disclosed by the company which portrayed the working environment as being overwhelmingly positive and one predominantly populated by generation Y employees whose use of language was often “colourful” and “quirky”. The photographic and witness evidence of a “fun-loving workplace” could not be ignored.

Mr T’s assertions of bulling and harassment were far less compelling.

The Authority decided that Mr T's evidence was too generic. Whenever he was asked to provide specific examples of the criticisms and jibes, Mr T was frequently unable to do so. He appeared confused about events and was unable to give clear descriptive testimony about instances in which he claims to have been abused. It was this lack of ability to provide sufficient detail or context that proved to be Mr T’s undoing. He was also criticised for not having raised his concerns to the CEO in the first instance.

This decision makes it clear that an employee intent on pursuing a claim of bullying and harassment has a duty to:

  • Be responsive and communicative
  • Bring the alleged abuse to the employer’s attention
  • Provide clear examples and evidence of the behaviour

These actions need to be taken before the situation becomes too much to handle, as the employer needs an opportunity to address the issue. Failing to bring the issue to an employer’s attention provides no reason to suspect there is a live issue to investigate.

It has also been made clear that the onus is on the employee to provide clear, concise and unquestionable evidence to support such allegations. The Authority felt that just because an employee may be working in a hostile environment, does not necessarily create bullying behaviour which could justify a claim for unfair dismissal. It needs to be convinced that improper behaviour has taken place which is undeniably “antagonistic and unfriendly”. The easiest way to do this is by:

  • Keeping clear, precise examples.
  • Obtaining witness evidence to corroborate those assertions.
  • Bringing the concerns to the employer’s attention in a timely fashion.
  • Cooperating with the employer in trying to resolve the issues before simply responding that enough is enough and going on sick leave.

ARTICLE 106 OF 152

Meet our PeopleRequest an Appointment