Bullying claims are the latest growth area at employment tribunals. The bullied even have their own website, Bully OnLine, where they can keep up to date with legal developments.
The latest case from the employment appeal tribunal is a warning for employers that they can't simply discipline a bully and expect bully and victim to work together again. They must make some effort to move one or the other to another job.
Abbey National plc failed in its appeal against a ruling by an employment tribunal that it was guilty of constructive dismissal when a bullied employee resigned rather than work with her line manager, found guilty of bullying her under the company's grievance procedure.
She made her complaint in April 1997. By August her manager had been found guilty, but she learned that he was not going to be moved. The following July, after much time off sick, she resigned.
The tribunal ruled in her favour, adding that the company had treated her in 'an insensitive, unsatisfactory and unreasonable way' for nine or 10 months.
But the company appealed, arguing that she had left it too late and that by not resigning until nearly a year after she learned her manager was not to be moved, she had accepted the decision.
The tribunal disagreed. If a cumulative series of events, a 'last straw' situation, had caused the employee to resign, the tribunal had to look at the end of the chain of events, not the beginning to decide if the employee had acted soon enough. In this case the final straw was a letter from the company nine days before she resigned.
Bullying is a serious problem in the NHS. A survey of employees of an NHS community trust, published in the BMJ last year, found that 38 per cent of respondents reported experiencing bullying in the previous year.