How “purpose or reasonable effect” can affect workplace harassment cases


Authored by DAS

Greasley-Adams v Royal Mail Group Limited

Harassment in the workplace has come under a spotlight in the last few years; from what we have seen, employers have also put their policies and practices under the spotlight to ensure they are doing all they can to eliminate it. However, given that harassment is based on personal perception, sadly it is not something that can be totally eradicated.

Under the Equality Act 2010 harassment is defined as follows:

A harasses B if A engages in unwanted conduct which had the purposes or reasonable effect of violating B’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.

The recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case of Greasley-Adams v Royal Mail Group Limited highlighted a key component to the test to determine if harassment has taken place, being whether the harassment has the “purpose or reasonable effect” of causing the hurt etc – which is the “perception”.

Mr Greasley-Adams had complaints brought against him by two colleagues, which were investigated.   During the investigation process, Mr Greasley-Adams was provided with statements his colleagues had made against him.  On becoming aware of what his colleagues had said against him, as a result of being provided with the investigation documentation, Mr Greasley-Adams brought a subsequent complaint for harassment against those colleagues.

The Tribunal found that the unwanted conduct complained of did not have the effect for it to amount to harassment. The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the Tribunal’s decision on the basis that if Mr Greasley-Adams had at the time no awareness off the conduct then he could have no perception of it. The EAT stated that if there is no awareness, there can be no perception.

Whether the acts an individual becomes aware of amount to harassment will depend on the facts of the case. In this instance, it was found that it was reasonable to expect that things would emerge which he may not like during the investigation and therefore could not have reasonable violated his dignity. This decision was fact-sensitive and therefore, it should be kept in mind that it is not to say that any revelations that appear during an investigation or via other means can never constitute harassment. It will depend on the perception and reasonableness of the effect the alleged conduct had.

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About DAS Group

The DAS UK Group comprises an insurance company (DAS Legal Expenses Insurance Company Ltd), a law firm (DAS Law), and an after the event (ATE) legal expenses division.

DAS UK introduced legal expenses insurance (LEI) in 1975, protecting individuals and businesses against the unforeseen costs involved in a legal dispute. In 2018 it wrote more than seven million policies.

 The company offers a range of insurance and assistance add-on products suitable for landlords, homeowners, motorists, groups and business owners, while it’s after the event legal expenses insurance division offers civil litigation, clinical negligence and personal injury products. In 2013, DAS also acquired its own law firm – DAS Law – enabling it to leverage the firm’s expertise to provide its customers with access to legal advice and representation.

 DAS UK is part of the ERGO Group, one of Europe’s largest insurance groups (the majority shareholder in ERGO is Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurers).