Stalking in the workplace: What is the responsibility of an employer?
GUEST BLOG - National Stalking Awareness Week 2018 took place last month. Our message was clear, encouraging victims to report and agencies to make #ReportingStalking a priority.
National Stalking Awareness Week 2018 took place last month, our focus was on encouraging victims of stalking to come forward and access support through statutory and voluntary services. Our message was clear, encouraging victims to report and agencies to make #ReportingStalking a strategic priority, looking at what barriers there are to victims disclosing and how this can be improved.
Stalking is a crime in England and Wales under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Stalking is described as a pattern of unwanted and persistent behaviour that is motivated by a fixation or obsession that causes a victim to suffer alarm, distress or a fear of violence.
Public and private organisations also have a role to play in understanding stalking issues and ensuring that support is provided to colleagues so they feel safe at work and access the right services that can help them.
Suzy Lamplugh Trust run the National Stalking Helpline and last year 6% of our callers were stalked by a work colleague. We have also supported victims whose stalkers have either encountered or pursue their victim in ways connected to their workplace.
The National Stalking Helpline recently supported *Emma who was stalked by a senior colleague. He sent her emails including threatening ones, birthday cards and letters and would stare at her at work events. He monitored her via her work calendar and made malicious reports to the police. When she reported this to her work place management they did not block his access to her calendar or email but told Emma they had instructed him not to look at these – this turned out not to be true. The stalker sent Emma a get well card at home while she was on sick leave, plus emails revealing that his senior position had allowed him to access further personal details about her. Senior management relocated Emma to her stalker’s office despite her complaints. Ultimately the stalker left the workplace for other reasons, but Emma remained feeling unsafe and unsupported.
Cases of stalking that involve the workplace have highlighted the need for organisations to provide their management and HR departments with stalking training so that they can better support victims of stalking. The Health and Safety at Work act 1974 states that employers have a legal duty under this act to ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.
Our helpline has increasingly received calls from organisations who are experiencing difficulties in supporting victims and intervening if a member of staff is accused of stalking. Our helpline often provides advice to organisations to help them understand the differences between employment law and criminal law and how to use this to create a robust organisational policy around stalking. Organisations need to be aware that they do not need an accused stalker to have been convicted to take action in the workplace – other HR processes do not require proof beyond reasonable doubt and so steps can be taken to reasonably reduce stalking behaviour in the workplace.
Stalkers in the workplace can carry out a variety of actions to achieve proximity to their victim, it is crucial that HR and management understand that these actions are motivated by a fixation and obsession.
How can stalking play out in the workplace?
Reputation Damage is common theme throughout cases of stalking in the workplace. The stalker is targeting something of value to the victim. To some this might be personal property, to others it will be their professional reputation.
We have also encountered Vexatious complaints or litigation issues on the helpline. The perpetrator uses it to seem legitimate, and will convey themselves as a victim been wronged
Victims will often minimise the behaviour and try to manage it. Many will experience dozens of incidents before they report. This is always worrying for us because early intervention is crucial if we are to close that fixation and obsession at an early stage.
In many professions where individuals have a public profile – such as politics, performing arts, neighbourhood policing, or teaching – stalking can be dismissed as an expected part of the job.
Top Tips for HR
Below are some top tips for organisations on addressing stalking issues and supporting victims. The tips have been collated by commonly asked questions/ issues organisation enquire about on the National Stalking Helpline.
As part of our call to make #ReportingStalking a strategic priority we ask that organisations:
- Develop a robust organisational policy on stalking
- Make stalking training mandatory for managers and HR departments
- If stalking is disclosed or suspected:
- Ask sensitively
- Take the concerns of the victims seriously
- Support and safeguard victims by limiting the contact they have with their stalker and the access the stalker has to victims’ personal details.
- HR and management seek specialist advice around stalking from local support services, police, employment law firms and the National Stalking Helpline.
- Robustly investigating allegations of stalking by a co-worker and act to reduce their ability to stalk.
Suzy Lamplugh Trust offers organisations training on stalking and personal safety. We also work with HR to help develop policies that can keep employees safe. Find out more on the Suzy Lamplugh Trust website.
You can also download our guide for employers on dealing with stalking in the workplace.
Find further information on stalking issues here.