Harassment….what to do?

17 October, 2016

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Occasionally businesses or their employees find themselves on the receiving end of unreasonable or threatening behaviour perhaps from a customer, disgruntled ex-employee or a member of the public and we have seen several of these cases in recent years. This can be a difficult issue to deal with and employers will be mindful of their duty to provide their employees with a safe place of work.  So what action can be taken?

Will the police assist?

A phone call to the police is advisable to see if they will take any action which would be at no cost to the company. The police are however often reluctant to or have insufficient resources to take criminal action.  So what if the police simply log the incidents or visit the individual yet the harassment continues?  Thankfully there are civil remedies which provide some protection.  

Civil remedies

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 allows victims of harassment to apply to the court for a civil injunction to stop a person from continuing their offending behaviour. Although a company cannot bring a claim under the Act, a claim can be made by a company’s managing director or directors on behalf of its affected employees. Where an injunction is granted, it will be a criminal offence for a person to breach it and the police are more likely to assist in these circumstances.

Whether or not an injunction will be granted will depend on the specific circumstances but the behaviour must have occurred on two or more occasions and have caused the victim alarm or distress. The conduct must be oppressive and unacceptable and more than just an irritation or annoyance.  The court will want to be satisfied that the conduct is serious enough to justify potential criminal liability and that any reasonable person would have concluded that the behaviour amounts to harassment.  Examples of harassment include being followed and receiving frequent or unwanted communications.

Depending on the severity of the behaviour, to save costs it is usually worth writing to the offender to put them on notice that their behaviour is considered to be harassment and asking them to undertake to cease their conduct failing which court proceedings may be issued. A solicitor’s letter will have more impact.  If this approach doesn’t work or if there is a serious and immediate risk to staff, it may be appropriate to issue court proceedings.  

If you would like to discuss a potential harassment issue or receive an assessment of the likelihood of an injunction being granted please contact Gemma Pearmain at gemma.pearmain@crippspg.co.uk.