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Stalking in the Workplace: What Do Employers Need To Know?

Sophie Eggleton discusses how this affects your HR policies

As part of the government’s wider commitment to protect women and girls, the new Stalking Protection Act 2019 came into force on 15 March 2019.

This is in light of the fact that the Crime Survey for England and Wales reported that:

  • More than 1 in 5 women aged 16 to 59 have been victims of stalking since the age of 16
  • 1 in 10 men also become victims of stalking
  • During 2017-2018 there were 1,616 prosecutions under stalking offences, 73% of these related to domestic abuse
  • There also remains a number of stalking offences committed by strangers

It is important to note that the Act covers everyone, not just women and girls.

What has the Stalking Protection Act brought in?

The Stalking Protection Act has introduced Stalking Protection Orders (SPO), which allows the police to tackle what has been dubbed as ‘stranger stalking’ in a shorter timeframe, before a prosecution has taken place. This is designed to offer victims more protection at an earlier stage.

SPOs can impose restrictions on the stalker, with a penalty if these are breached. Perpetrators of stalking may be banned from going to certain places or contacting their victims, and they may also be required to seek help, such as counselling or a mental health assessment. If the stalker breaches the SPO without a justifiable excuse, they could be sentenced up to five years in prison.


What can stalking in the workplace look like?

Stalking in the workplace can take on many forms including colleagues, clients and patients/customers and may include the following behaviours:

  • Excessive emails
  • Sending gifts/ letters
  • Blackmail
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Being followed
  • Nuisance calls
  • Abuse over social media
  • Visiting home or workplace

How can employers help?

There is a legal requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 that employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees.

Many victims who are experiencing stalking are reluctant to disclose their situation in fear of being judged, therefore it is important that employers know the signs and what to look out for.

Employees who are experiencing stalking may display symptoms in line with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. This may lead to increased sickness absence or arriving late for work.

Stalking may also inadvertently affect the victim’s ability to perform in their role, therefore we recommend looking out for changes in productivity and exploring the reasons with the employee at the earliest opportunity.

Identifying an employee who is experiencing difficulties at an early stage will enable you to offer the most appropriate support and help the victim to deal with their situation effectively.

Provide support:

  • Listen to the employees concerns and encourage regular discussions with a sensitive, non-judgmental, reassuring approach
  • Maintain confidentiality (but highlight circumstances that may mean you have to share information with external agencies)
  • Provide information on specialist stalking and harassment organisations, that can offer support
  • Consider offering practical support in terms of unpaid time off work to attend legal appointments either with solicitors or the police to ensure that the matter can be dealt with as quickly and as effectively as possible
  • Carry out a risk assessment with the victim and develop a personal safety plan. Review this regularly

Taking action in the workplace

When drafting the Act, the government was clear that SPOs should not, where possible, interfere with the perpetrator’s place or time of work. There are usually no issues with this, so long as the victim and the stalker work for different employers.

However, if the two people in question work at the same location, problems can arise and employers will need to take steps to ensure their employee does not breach their SPO, while also protecting the victim. The most common way of doing this would be to create shift patterns or rotas that don’t clash, although if the two people are full-time members of a small dental team this may not be feasible.

In these circumstances we would recommend that, in addition to the support above, you carry out a risk assessment for other employees who may also be exposed to harm from the stalker. If the stalker is prosecuted, employers would need to consider whether or not it would be appropriate to take disciplinary action in line with your own disciplinary procedures.

In such scenarios, it is advisable to follow your own internal harassment policy and take steps accordingly. iComply users can refer to Anti-bullying and Harassment Policy M 233-ABH for guidance with this.

Seek reliable HR advice

Each case of harassment or stalking will be very different, and we advise getting expert support if you do find yourself in this situation, our Total HR members will be able to discuss any concerns they may have with their Total HR advisor. Our advisors can also help you with any bespoke supporting documentation, for example risk assessments and personal safety plans.

Sophie Eggleton is an experienced Senior HR Advisor within the CODE Total HR team, providing daily HR advice and support to CODE’s member base of more than 3,000 practices. Sophie holds the CIPD level 5 qualification in Human Resource Management and has developed her HR knowledge and skills by working in various sectors.

For more information on CODE’s Total HR service visit agilio.wpengine.com/hr or call the team on 01409 254 416.

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