Many thanks for your patience. Whilst this may appear to be a potential case of defamation (this includes libel if it is in written form, or slander if it is in oral form), such claims are rather difficult to pursue. Many people are keen on suing for defamation without having full appreciation of the law or practicalities in doing so. I will try and clarify the position below.
First of all, certain conditions must be met for the statement to be classified as defamatory. These are:
1. There has to be a defamatory statement - the assessment that is often used to establish this is whether the statement tends to lower the claimant in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally
2. Its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant – this will vary based on what effect it will have but it really has to be something sufficiently serious
3. The statement has been published by the defendant to a third party
4. The claimant must prove that the words complained of were published about him - this should not be an issue if the claimant is named or clearly identified.
Whilst it may be easy to prove that defamation has taken place, the legal process of pursuing such a claim is often complex and prohibitively expensive. A claim must be made in the High Court and will likely require the help of professional defamation lawyers, so the costs will often be high right from the outset, usually in the thousands. There is also no legal aid available for such claims so the complainant must fund these personally.
You must also consider whether the publisher of the statement can potentially defend the claim. For example, this can happen by proving the statement was true or an honest opinion which could have been made based on the available facts.
In terms if the bullying, although there is no legal definition of bullying, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) defines it as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.” Examples given are: spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone by word or behaviour; exclusion or victimisation; unfair treatment; overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position; making threats or comments about job security without foundation; deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism; preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities.
Under law, specifically the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, an employer has a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees. In addition, they have the implied contractual duty to provide a safe and suitable working environment. That includes preventing, or at least effectively dealing with bullying behaviour occurring in the workplace.
In terms of what the victim of bullying can do to try and deal with such problems, the following steps are recommended:
1. First of all, and if appropriate, the victim should try and calmly and professionally resolve the issue informally with the person responsible for the bullying.
2. If the above does not work or is not a viable option, the victim should consider raising a formal grievance with the employer by following the company's own grievance policy, or sending a complaint in writing to their line manager. This formally brings the bullying issue to the attention of the employer and they will have a duty to investigate and deal with it.
3. If, following a grievance, the employer fails to adequately deal with the bullying issues, the victim would need to seriously consider their next steps. Unfortunately, employment law does not allow employees to make a direct claim for bullying. As such, the most common way of claiming is by resigning and making a claim for constructive dismissal in an employment tribunal. The reason for resigning would be to claim that by failing to act appropriately, the employer has breached the implied terms of mutual trust and confidence and failed to provide a safe working environment and that there was no other option but to resign.
As a final pointer, the victim should try and gather as much evidence as possible before considering making a formal complaint and certainly before going down the resignation route. As bullying is often verbal or through actions, the best way is to keep a detailed diary of all bullying occasions so that there is at least some reference in written form that the employer and/or the tribunal can refer to.
Does this answer your query?