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Workplace ‘Banter’ vs Workplace Bullying

A recent case in York Crown Court heard four employees bullied a teenage apprentice colleague for a period of nine months.

The victim (who is a regular church-goer) allegedly underwent months of bullying, which included being tied to a chair with duct tape and a dummy being forced in his mouth, being ‘wedgied’ which caused cuts and bruises and was tied to a handmade crucifix, drawn on and burnt by his fellow colleagues.

The colleagues, who are currently on trial for assault, dismissed these claims and stated that they were just a series of workplace pranks.

The defendants in the case deny putting the employee in fear of violence by harassment and racially aggravated assault by beating.

Austin Newman (prosecution) stated in court that “the prosecution contend it was sustained bullying of a young man in the workplace. From an early stage, he was subject to acts of bullying that went beyond anything that could be described as banter or high jinks in the workplace”

Newman carried on to explain the first incident “one night during the week, the group would tend to go out socialising and drinking – that night was usually Thursday night. On this occasion the victim did not accompany his colleagues and he went to bed. He was woken by a colleague who was above him with a deodorant can in one hand and a cigarette lighter in another. The colleague discharged the spray that narrowly missed the victims head because he had the presence of mind to pull the duvet over his head. Afterwards another colleague was seen stamping out the smoke from the duvet.” It was understood that pictures of the incident were taken on a mobile phone.

The second incident, described as the following “the colleagues returned to their digs where the victim was asleep. Whilst he was asleep a colleague took a permanent marker and drew a number of symbols, both religious and phallic, over the victims face.”

The last incident which happened, was when the victim was attacked by his colleagues in January 2015. It was described as “the colleagues forced the complainant onto a cross fashioned out of two lengths of wood and put him onto a square of plasterboard. He was tied down to the plasterboard by duct tape. He was suspended a metre above the ground in a way that resembled a crucifixion.”

This case is yet to be concluded.

Susie Munro from Xpert HR has said that although this is a criminal case, the victim could also claim for harassment related to religion or belief. Questions could also rise of the employer’s liability for these extreme examples of bullying.

Let us know what you think. Is the employer liable for letting this happen? Do you have the right system in place for an employee to approach someone if they are being bullied?

For any support with workplace bullying, contact us on 01909 512 120 or email phillipa@loftusstowe.com

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Femi Ogunshakin Managing Director
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