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Harassment – how is it measured?

A very recent appeal case (Conn v Sunderland City Council 08/11/07) gives some help in deciding when an employee can or cannot succeed in a claim of harassment by their employer.

The employer (Sunderland City Council) initially lost the case at County Court on evidence that Mr Conn, a paver for the Council had been bullied by his manager on five occasions causing psychiatric injury and harassment by him on two out of the five occasions.

The first cases based on negligence failed, as it was proven the psychiatric illness was not caused by the events.

It was, however, held that on two occasions, the manager had acted in an unacceptable manner and this would be considered harassment under the Protection of Harassment Act 1997.

Specifically the manager had threatened to punch out the window of a portacabin if Mr Conn and two others wouldn’t tell him who had been leaving work early.

On the second occasion the manager swore at Mr Conn, threatening him with a hiding for giving him the silent treatment.

On appeal it was held that the conduct must be both oppressive and unacceptable to contravene the 1997 Act rather than just unattractive or unreasonable.

The incident involving the window wasn’t targeted at Mr Conn, and the other workers didn’t find it intimidating.

Furthermore, harassment requires a ‘course of conduct’.

Even if the second ‘silent treatment’ was considered oppressive and unacceptable it would merely be one such incident.

Two instances of harassment are necessary to show a course of conduct. The appeal was therefore allowed.

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