Bullying and Harassment in the Military
Bolt Burdon Kemp’s military claims solicitors understand how hard it can be to report bullying and harassment in the Armed Forces.
Our team has supported and advised many service men and women making a claim for compensation after they have been bullied or harassed by colleagues or superiors in the military.
What counts as bullying?
The line between bullying, firm discipline and practical jokes can seem blurred. Bullies often add to this confusion, undermining a victim by saying they “can’t take a joke” or that any offence taken is an over-reaction to banter.
However, if a person is deliberately being made to feel humiliated, demeaned, uncomfortable or afraid, then they are being bullied. Exactly what constitutes bullying varies from case to case. It can cover:
- Humiliating initiation rites
Bullying can be intensely personal and distressing, and the stress it causes can wreck careers and harm life at home. But victims are not alone. Government statistics show that 10% of service personnel said they had been subject to bullying in 2014.
The chain of command has a duty of care towards all service personnel and it is their responsibility to ensure bullying does not happen.
Harassment, discrimination and your rights
Everyone has the right to be treated decently at work and not discriminated against, and it is no different in the military. A person’s sex, race, religion or sexual orientation should never be used against them, or mean that they are treated differently than their colleagues.
The law protects service men and women from harassment, discrimination and assault in the workplace.
The Protection from Harassment Act protects people from anyone who:
- Knows or ought to know that their behaviour amounts to harassment
- Behaves in an oppressive or unacceptable way
- Harasses the victim on at least two occasions
- Causes distress through this behaviour
The Protection from Harassment Act potentially allows the police to investigate and prosecute offenders. If a claim is brought successfully, in addition to an award for damages and costs, an injunction can be brought against the bully.
This injunction could restrain your harasser from having any further contact with you.
The most serious cases of bullying, harassment or discrimination can include assault , or sexual attacks. Bolt Burdon Kemp also represents claimants seeking compensation for such serious offences.
Duty of care
Every member of the Armed Forces has the right to carry out their duties and live their lives without being bullied, assaulted or discriminated against.
The chain of command has a duty of care towards those in their charge. That is, they must take reasonable care to avoid personnel coming to any foreseeable harm.
Often, the military can be held accountable for acts of its personnel who harm their colleagues, even if the chain of command was unaware of the problem. This harm does not have to include physical injury: it can include mental health issues, such as depression or PTSD.
Another important aspect of this duty of care is ensuring that making a justified complaint resolves the situation and doesn’t escalate it.
Examples of when a complaint has not been well conducted can include:
- Lengthy and inefficient service complaint investigations
- Inadequate punishment of perpetrators following the service complaint
- Ineffective communication with the team which could lead to their sympathising with the perpetrator
- Returning the complainant to the same working environment or moving them to another (perhaps inferior) job while the perpetrator remains in place
The military publishes guidelines and procedures to address and prevent bullying in the workplace. If these are not followed it is likely there will have been a failure in the duty of care.
Legal advice and your military career
Our expert team handle each case with utmost care. The information given to us is totally confidential and is never shared without permission – but it is vital we know everything about each case so our team can understand the severity of the problem a person is experiencing, and if it would be classed as bullying or harassment.
The consequences of either bullying or harassment can compromise future career prospects, meaning heavy emotional and financial costs. Bolt Burdon Kemp will work with you and help you obtain compensation for these costs. It takes courage to complain about bullying, especially in the military, but people should not suffer in silence.
Bullying in the military is a complicated area of law because there are different ways to make a complaint or bring a claim, either in the County Court, the High Court or an Employment Tribunal.
There are also strict time limits for bringing claims, so legal advice should be sought as soon as possible. If you wait until the service complaint process is finished, it could mean you are too late.
If you have suffered from bullying while in the military, then contact us today to discuss making a claim.
How we have helped our clients
Reservist suffers racial harassment
We acted for a former Sergeant in the Army Reserves. He had a lengthy and successful career in the Army Reserves, having deployed on numerous tours of duty.
Our client was of mixed race background and this was an issue for some of his colleagues and superiors, who ridiculed him over a protracted period of time. They called him names, put up posters around the office and insulted him in front of colleagues. Our client asked them to stop and turned to his superiors, who did nothing. Unfortunately, our client suffered a breakdown and this resulted in his medical discharge. He was so seriously bullied that he developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a complex anxiety condition that left him unable to work at all.
Our client raised a service complaint, which was rejected. He appealed to an appeal panel and later to the Service Complainants Ombudsman for the Armed Forces. He succeeded in proving some of his allegations but was not compensated for his injuries.
We brought a claim under the Protection From Harassment Act for our client in the civil courts. Despite our client’s success in the service complaints process and despite the Ombudsman’s positive recommendations in his case, the Ministry of Defence continued to deny his civil claim for harassment entirely.
The case proceeded to trial and settled on the penultimate day at court, when the Ministry of Defence realised that they were going to lose. Our client secured a very significant sum in settlement of his claim, which will now enable him to move on with his life.