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LONDON-In one of the first legal judgments of its kind, a London lawyer has been ordered to pay compensation to a former employee who alleged he was harassed at work.
The decision, made earlier this month by a London magistrate, underscores the findings of a recent survey by the Institute of Personnel and Development that shows that workplace harassment is a growing problem in the United Kingdom.
Legal clerk Joel Parkes sued his former employer, Robert Layton, claiming he was sworn at and struck by Mr. Layton for failing to photocopy some documents.
Although the compensation awarded was small-(British pounds)30 ($51) in compensation and (British pounds)785 ($1,342) for legal costs-Mr. Layton also faces possible disciplinary proceedings by the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, a self-regulatory arm of the Law Society.
The office may decide to rebuke Mr. Layton or refer him to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which, if it found him guilty, could impose one of several penalties including a fine or a suspension, said a spokeswoman.
Both Mr. Layton and Mr. Parkes were unavailable for comment. But a spokeswoman for Robert Layton & Co., Mr. Layton's Acton-based law firm, said Mr. Layton would not appeal the court ruling.
Meanwhile, a new survey found that one in eight people have been harassed at work in the last five years.
The IPD survey, which polled 1,007 U.K. workers during the fall of 1996, found that among those who have been harassed, more than half said that harassment is commonplace in their company. A quarter said the situation has worsened in the last year.
Most respondents pointed the finger at senior management for harassment, and most of those harassed are managerial and professional staff, according to the IPD, which is a professional association of personnel managers.
"These results confirm that bullying doesn't stop in the school playground, but it is a genuine problem in U.K. workplaces," said the IPD's Melissa Compton-Edwards, who led the research project.
According to the IPD, harassing behavior consists of unfair and excessive criticism; publicly insulting the victim; ignoring the victim's point of view; and constantly changing or setting unrealistic work targets.
Actual physical assault was less common, reported by 8% of victims.
Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said their company had a code or policy covering harassment at work, while 44% reported no policy and 20% did not know.
According to the institute, ways to combat harassment include:
A published, well-promoted policy statement against harassment, supported by top management.
User-friendly procedures providing formal and informal ways of resolving problems quickly and confidentially. All employees should know to whom they should make a complaint and an alternative person.
Access to counseling, advice and support.
Thorough, immediate investigation of any alleged incidents.
Grievance and disciplinary procedures.