Jennifer Rowlinson | Associate

Stress at Work – Bullying and Harassment

At Jackson Boyd, we frequently speak to clients who are mistreated at work. Understandably, this treatment can result in individuals feeling stressed at work. Stress can also have a negative impact on our mental health. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It determines how we handle stress and relate to others and make choices.

One contributor of stress can come from bullying or harassment in the work place. The key element in assessing whether a valid claim exists is whether the treatment amounts to bullying or harassment.


  • Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour; and
  • An abuse of misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, denigrates or injures the recipient (emotionally or physically).


  • “Unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.”
  • The protected characteristics are detailed in the Equality Act 2010 and include age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Employees can complain of harassment even if the unwanted behaviour is not directed at them. It is enough that the behaviour creates an environment the employee finds offensive. In Scotland, complaints to the Employment Tribunal can only be made if the mistreatment is linked to one of the protected characteristics.

Claims for discrimination and harassment must be raised within three months less one day of the unwanted conduct. It is a pre-requisite of Employment Tribunal proceedings that an ACAS Early Conciliation application is lodged.

Constructive Dismissal

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ towards employees. There is an implied duty of trust and confidence between an employer and employee. Accordingly, employers should not, without reasonable and proper cause, conduct itself in a manner which is likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of trust and confidence.

If there is bullying at work, then an employee could resign and may be able to claim ‘constructive dismissal’ on the grounds of breach of contract.

Personal Injury Claim

In some circumstances, bullying and harassment at work can result in employees suffering from occupational stress.

If the claim is based on the negligence of the employer, you require to prove:

  • how your employer breached their legal duty of care for your safety at work.
  • You must also prove your employer ought to have foreseen you were at a material risk of sustaining a psychiatric illness in consequence of their conduct. Foreseeability can be established in two ways:
    • You have approached your employer and made them aware you are suffering from stress
    • Having recovered from a breakdown, you return to work and your employer’s conduct remains the same, resulting in a second breakdown.

If you would like to discuss any of these matters further please contact us online here or call 0333 222 1855.


Jennifer Rowlinson

Jennifer Rowlinson

Personal Injury Team

“I particularly enjoy being involved in court hearings and helping my client’s feel supported through the court process from beginning to end”

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