Bullying in the workplace often has a serious impact on an employee’s
mental and physical wellbeing. It can undermine their ability to work
for their employer and commonly their ability to return to work in
There is no specific legal remedy for bullying in the workplace but
there are a number of potential legal claims.
As the law is complex, it is advisable to consult with a firm of solicitors
who practice in both employment law and personal injuries.
This article attempts to give a quick overview of the different legal
A claim can be made to an Employment Tribunal for compensation for
unfair dismissal where there has been a dismissal (often in these
circumstances for long term ill-health) or where the employee has
had no choice but to resign in circumstances that amount to constructive
dismissal. Where an employee is able to show that they resigned because
the employer’s conduct was wholly inappropriate or unreasonable it
is relatively easy for the Tribunal to conclude that their resignation
amounted to constructive dismissal and that that dismissal was unfair.
Compensation is limited to the basic award (equivalent to statutory
redundancy pay) and the compensatory award which includes around £250
for loss of statutory rights as well as loss of earnings. The compensatory
award is subject to a ceiling of currently £58,400.
Loss of earnings is based on actual net loss of earnings (less benefits)
to the date of the Tribunal and projected loss of earnings. Usually
loss of earnings is not awarded beyond 6 months after dismissal, although
in this kind of case it is more likely that a longer period would
be awarded if the medical and other evidence supported it.
In an Employment Tribunal each party bears their own legal costs so
the winner does not recover their legal costs from the loser. However,
without the risk of having to pay the winner’s costs if they lose
it is easier for an employee to bring a weak case. This is important
as even a strong case is nowhere near 100% certain to win.
A claim to the Tribunal usually has to be made within three months
so there is a need to act quickly and often before an estimate of
the actual loss is possible, which is not the case with a civil claim.
If there is an element of gender, race, sexuality, disability and
age discrimination then a discrimination claim can be made to the
Employment Tribunal. With such a claim there does not have to be have
been a dismissal and significantly there is no ceiling on the amount
of compensation that can be awarded.
In addition to a claim for financial loss a claim can be made for
injury to feelings and personal injury. Awards for injury to feelings
usually range from £500 to £25,000 in extreme cases.
A person is disabled within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination
Act 1995 if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a
substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal
From 2005, mental impairment no longer has to mean a clinically well-recognised
illness, although a report from a psychiatrist diagnosing a recognised
psychiatric condition is still preferable.
Long-term means that the condition has lasted, or is likely to last,
at least 12 months.
The condition that normal day-to-day activities are affected would
be satisfied if their memory or ability to concentrate, learn or understand
is affected adversely to a substantial degree.
The disability claim can be based on the employer’s duty to make reasonable
adjustments and a dismissal for ill-health can also be challenged
on this basis. The claim can be made to an Employment Tribunal, there
is no ceiling on the amount of compensation and the award can include
both injury to feelings and for injury (e.g. the exacerbation of a
Personal injury claim
A personal injury claim can be made in the County Court or High Court.
With such a claim there does not need to have been a dismissal.
To bring such a claim the employee will need to show that their mental
condition was caused by, or made worse by, the employer’s behaviour.
This can be difficult especially if the employee has a complex medical
history or where other life events make it difficult to attribute
the illness to work.
Even if they are able to show that the employer’s treatment caused
their illness or made it worse, they will also have to show that their
employer should have foreseen the effect of their behaviour and should
have taken steps to avoid it. The case law suggests that this is not
going to be easy.
Protection from Harassment Act 1997
It is now quite clear that there is also a potential claim against
the employer under this legislation, opening up the potential for
a civil claim for damages.
Normally it is going to be easier to bring a stress-related claim
in the Employment Tribunal. If the facts support it the claim will
be based on discrimination as well as unfair dismissal as that will
allow recovery for injury to feelings and for any injury and will
mean that there will be no ceiling on the compensatory award.
If there is no basis to claim discrimination, the effect of the statutory
ceiling on the compensation award for loss of earnings in unfair dismissal
claims means that higher earners and those who are unlikely to work
again for some period are unlikely to receive full compensation. A
personal injury claim may also need to be considered. The law is complex
around the impact of bringing both or not pursuing an unfair dismissal
claim in favour of a personal injury claim and a solicitor will consider
these aspects carefully.
The above article is for general information purposes
only and is in no way intended to constitute legal advice. You should
not take any action based upon on this article without first receiving
legal advice from a lawyer familiar with your particular circumstances.
No liability is accepted for reliance on the information contained
in this article.
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