The bully boys look like being caught out for once.
Employers were dealt a body-blow last week when the House of Lords found for the first time they can be vicariously liable for bullying and harassing acts by their employees under anti-harassment laws.
The decision will have a massive impact on employees who have been bullied or harassed at work.
Until now, victims of bullying, like others who suffer stress at work, have had significant hurdles to clear to bring claims against employers. The main difficulty is proving the employer knew or should have known they were at risk. The other problem is having to show they suffered a recognised psychiatric illness.
Upholding an earlier Court of Appeal decision, the House of Lords asserted employers can be liable for harassment by an employee, by enforcing the Protection from Harassment Act - originally enacted to combat stalking. This Act allows a longer time limit for claims - six years against the usual three for personal injury.
Audit co-ordinator at Guy's and St Thomas's NHS Trust, William Majrowski, suffered harassment and bullying at the hands of his line manager. After he made a formal complaint, an internal investigation found he had been the victim of homophobic harassment. Subsequently he took his employers to court, arguing they were liable.
Tariq Sadiq, Midlands representative of the national Employment Lawyers Association, and specialist employment barrister, said: "This landmark decision gives a new route for employees bullied at work to sue employers.
"It means an employer could be liable and ordered to pay damages for the harassment of one worker by another, as long as the bullying was closely connected with the duties of the job. The harassment in question does not need to be related to unlawful discrimination against the employee and so would potentially cover all bullying and harassment.
"Employees need only prove they have suffered 'anxiety' as a result of the harassment as opposed to a 'recognisable psychiatric injury', a significantly lower hurdle. They need not prove the anxiety was foreseeable: employers would be liable even if they knew nothing about what was happening."
Mr Sadiq added: "However, this case might not open the floodgates. The House of Lords pointed out 'annoyances' and 'upset' that are a normal part of working life will be most unlikely to amount to harassment. Conduct would need to cross over the boundary to become oppressive and unacceptable and be sufficiently serious to give rise to potential liability. This may prove to be a high threshold in practice."
According to Mr Sadiq, an important practical point is that employment tribunals do not have jurisdiction to hear claims under the Act and they will have to be brought in the County Court or High Court. This may put employees off, as they will be at risk of paying the employer's costs if their claim is unsuccessful. Employers would need to check the terms of their employer's liability insurance policy since many existing policies will not cover claims made under the Act.