Thomas Mansfield, Employment Solicitors, Illustrate how a Course of Conduct Amounts to Harassment
Released on: March 21, 2011, 8:11 am
Employment solicitors Thomas Mansfield put harassment in the bigger picture
As employment solicitors, we often think of harassment in the context of discrimination. What isn't always understood is harassment in the wider sense.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (PHA) was originally introduced in the wake of the Jill Dando murder trial to protect people from stalkers. Now, it is increasingly being used by employees to protect them from conduct within the workplace.
The case of Iqbal v Dean Manson Solicitors  heard by the court of Appeal (CA) on 15 February 2011 provides a timely reminder of what amounts to harassment under the PHA.
Mr Iqbal sued Dean Manson Solicitors (DMS) under the PHA on the basis that letters received by him from DMS, he said, amounted to harassment.
DMS had employed Mr Iqbal as an assistant solicitor for two months. During that time he had worked on a matter for Mr and Mrs Tahir whose fees were guaranteed by a third party Mr Butt. The clients failed to pay and in 2009 DMS brought proceedings under the guarantee against Mr Butt who instructed Mr Iqbal to act for him.
DMS wrote to Mr Iqbal on two occasions questioning his integrity and accusing him of serious conflict and conduct issues. It then wrote to him a third time asserting that he had misled the law society and the general public.
Mr Iqbal issued county court proceedings against DMS under the PHA. The county court initially rejected his claim on the basis that the letters could not amount to a course of conduct amounting to harassment.
Mr Iqbal appealed to the High Court which dismissed the appeal on the grounds that that the letters could not be said to be oppressive or unreasonable. That the third letter could be described as possibly amounting to harassment, but as a single incident, could not form a course of conduct.
The Court of Appeal began by asserting that each of the three communications was oppressive and unacceptable and amounted to a deliberate attack on Mr Iqbal's professional and personal integrity.
The High Court held that under the PHA, a single act which alone is neutral can become part of a course of conduct amounting to harassment by virtue of its subsequent repetition.
Whilst this is an extreme and slightly unusual case, employment solicitors would highlight to employers that they can be liable for the actions employees who harass colleagues during the course of their employment.
For a claim to fall under the PHA, an employee does not have to establish discriminatory motive on the part of the harasser. Best practice dictates that employers should have a policy in place prohibiting harassment of both a discriminatory and non discriminatory nature.
Thomas Mansfield Solicitors, winners of the Innovation Award at the Law Society's Excellence Awards 2009, are specialist employment solicitors, based in London, who deal with a variety of employment issues.
Media contact details:
Thomas Mansfield Solicitors
Unit 2, Ground Floor
Christopher Wren Yard
119 High Street
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