Workplace 'harassment' clarified in case of Veakins vs Kiers Islington

Employers and staff have been given clarification on what type of behaviour constitutes 'harassment', following a tribunal hearing.

In the case Veakins vs Kier Islington, Veakins brought a claim for harassment against her employer, Kier Islington, claiming she was harassed at work by her supervisor, Jackie Lavy.  

At her trial the claim was dismissed, despite Kier Islington not disputing the harassment, as the County Court Recorder did not think that the proven acts, although ‘extremely regrettable' amounted to harassment, so did not sustain criminal liability under the 1997 Act.  

But the Court of Appeal overturned this decision, saying that the Recorder was wrong not to evaluate the evidence against the test of ‘oppressive and unacceptable'.

According to legal experts at Beachcroft, the two months under Lavy's supervision resulted in Veakins going on extended sick leave and suffering from clinical depression for which she was prescribed medication and received counselling.

As her employer, the company was liable for Lavy's conduct.  Damages will now be assessed by the County Court.

Rachel Dineley, head of the diversity and discrimination unit at Beachcroft said: "This case provides a sharp reminder of what constitutes the most serious form of ‘harassment' at work. If an employee wishes to bring a claim against their employer for harassment under the 1997 Act, the harassment will have to be far more severe than just ‘giving a colleague a hard time', for example. It may not take very long to have a very negative impact on a typical employee, with grave consequences for all concerned.   

"In bringing a claim for harassment [an employee] must be able to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the harassment was so severe that it calls for criminal liability. Using this criterion under the 1997 Act to categorise harassment is extremely significant, and can quickly establish whether the behaviour of your boss is severe enough that you can bring a claim."