Brian Morgan, Principal of Morgan McManus Solicitors, reviews the conduct of the Employer in his very inadequate response to an Employee’s Complaint of Bullying and Harassment detailed in a recent 3-part Series which was featured on ITV / Virgin Media.
The corrosive effects of workplace bullying were explored in a 3-part drama Sticks and Stones which was featured recently on television.
Viewers were introduced to Thomas Benson, a hard working father and husband at Clayton Office Solutions, who began to feel undermined and under attack in the aftermath of a pitch to a prospective client that went terribly wrong and lead to his Employer company potentially losing a large Contract.
With the office laying blame at Thomas’s door, the Series blended some dark humour with intense drama as the character started to feel out of control when his work colleagues in the Sales Department turned against him.
The other Sales Associates at Clayton Office Solutions were Isabelle Jones, Andy Stocks and Becky Mills. At every opportunity Andy and Becky teased and undermined Thomas, while Isabelle pretended to be his “best friend” as she also continued to undermine him. At each point, Thomas suffered continuing humiliation as he was the butt of their jokes and was lead from pillar to post in his efforts to keep up with misleading messages and directions given by them in their efforts to embarrass him in front of his boss, Chris Carter.
This was a clear case of Bullying and Harassment.
Where the Boss went wrong.
While Thomas tried on a number of occasions to bring his Complaints to the attention of his boss, on each occasion his boss responded negatively suggesting to Thomas that maybe Thomas was the problem. The background surrounding all of these events was the fact that the company was due to commence Redundancies and Thomas’ three Associates had decided that they would undermine their line manager Thomas in front of his boss Mr. Carter, leading Mr. Carter ultimately to consider Thomas for Redundancy.
In the first instance, the fact that Thomas was being placed in such an embarrassing predicament in front of his boss should not have been a basis for Redundancy. It is quite clear that the company did not adopt proper procedures to assess which Employee/s should have been considered for Redundancy which is generally based on firstly, inviting all relevant Employees to consider volunteering for Redundancy and, in default, then assessing which Employees are more suitable to be retained for the continuing needs of the company.
Procedure to be adopted in the event of a Bullying notification.
Once Mr. Carter was advised by Thomas that he was being bullied, Mr. Carter should immediately have commenced a formal Investigation and should have ensured that Thomas was to have no further contact during the Investigation with his alleged Perpetrators, Isabelle, Andy and Becky. Instead, when matters came to boiling point in the final episode, Mr. Carter, under advisement from his HR Manager, met separately with each of the alleged perpetrators and then called in Thomas to have a “head -to- head” with each of the his tormentors! Any sensible Employer would have seen where this was going to go. This resulted in further humiliation and embarrassment for Thomas, who ultimately collapsed during the meeting. When left in the room alone later with Isabelle, she (as many bullies do) stated quietly (she thought) to Thomas that people in her situation always harass at just below the legal limit. She imputed that she was entitled to call him a “dipstick”; although she accepted that if she called him a “black dipstick”, she would be breaking the law.
Fortunately for Thomas he had the good wit to record the conversation on his mobile phone and all went well for him thereafter, including the receipt of a grovelling e-mail apology from his Employer! The police were seen calling at Isabelle’s home. No doubt the Employer would be paying a hefty sum in compensation to Thomas. No doubt the matter was heading for the Courts!
A happy ending?
Not all Bullying Complaints end this well. Many Employees suffer severe mental injury. This arises out of constant unrelenting harassment from either a line manager or work colleagues. A bullied Employee might succeed in having his/her complaint adequately dealt with and continue to work in the workplace. Often however the Employee feels obliged to resign and issue a Civil Claim for compensation.
Many viewers could not understand how Thomas could allow himself to be treated in this manner. For instance, why didn`t he simply tell them to go away, when Andy and Becky were teasing him to put his face up against Andy`s chest. What people fail to appreciate is that a bullied employee can lose so much confidence that they no longer have the strength to stand up for themselves.
A wise Employer should have a proper Dignity at Work / Bullying and Harassment Policy and follow the procedure outlined in this Policy very carefully where it comes to the Employer’s attention that an Employee is complaining that he/she is being bullied.
For further information please contact:
Brian Morgan, Morgan McManus Solicitors, Clones, Co. Monaghan
Phone: 00353 47 51011