24 August 2015 #Dispute Resolution
The growth of the internet and the readily accessibility of platforms for public comment have made it easier than ever for disgruntled or vindictive ex-employees to make disparaging comments about their former employer and colleagues.
In some cases it may be possible to take action to remove offending remarks from websites or blogs cheaply and effectively, especially where the material published is defamatory. In other cases actions may go beyond simply posting offensive comments and a concerted campaign of action can cause damage to organisations and serious personal concern to individuals involved.
One approach in such cases is to take action on grounds of harassment. The difficulty with such claims is often showing that the course of conduct does indeed amount to harassment. We are now starting to see more cases in which employers have successfully used the threat of or obtained injunctions preventing ex-employees from making threats to or publicising allegations in relation to continuing members of staff where this can be shown to amount to harassment. One recent case was SCS Computer Sciences –v- Price in which the applicant company and some of its employees successfully obtained an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to prevent an individual sending correspondence which the court was satisfied could lead to alarm and distress on the part of the company applicant’s employees.
In that case the action by the disgruntled ex-employee included threats to send a very large number of e-mails, direct contact with family members of former colleagues, threats to publish e-mails and mobile phone numbers and cryptic threats against family members.
Courts do still require strong evidence and good grounds before making such orders and the SCS case underlines this: although the Judge did grant an interim injunction, it was for a very short period only in order to allow the ex-employee to attend a subsequent hearing. The court also expressed its concern that granting an injunction might inflame the situation which, at the date of the hearing was calm and also commented that it had only been “just persuaded” to grant the injunction sought.
Although, therefore, strong evidence of harassment will be needed action under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 can be an effective way to protect your employees from maverick action by an ex-employee. However showing a course of conduct that actually amounts to harassment can be difficult. It is also normally necessary for the effected employees themselves to be a party to the litigation, although it can be funded by the employer. A further challenge can be where the ex-employee seeks to cover their identity by adopting aliases, sending from different e-mail addresses or publicising anonymously, although in those circumstances expert investigation can often link the ex-employee suspected with the relevant publications.