A guide for employers in handling stalking and harassment cases

The trending Netflix show ‘Baby Reindeer’ has brought to the forefront the wide-ranging issues of stalking and harassment, especially in the workplace.

As an employer, it’s crucial to have measures in place to protect employees who may be experiencing such situations, even if the source of the harassment lies outside of the employee’s employment.

In this article, Jayne Harrison, partner and head of the employment team at Richard Nelson LLP, provides employers with practical advice on handling stalking and harassment cases in the workplace.

If you’re interested in one particular section, use the links below to navigate straight to it:

Concerned about workplace stalking or harassment? We offer support. Contact our team today.

The difference between stalking and harassment

      • Stalking: The persistent and unwanted attention that makes you feel pestered or harassed. It includes behaviour that happens two or more times and is directed towards you by another person, causing fear or distress. Examples of stalking in the workplace include repeated unwanted communication, following, and surveillance.
      • Harassment: The behaviour that is intended to cause a person alarm of distress. Similarly to stalking, the behaviour occurs more than once, but it doesn’t have to be the same kind of behaviour on each occasion. Examples of harassment in the workplace include offensive jokes, intrusive questions, and unwelcome physical contact.

Stalking/harassment impact on employees

Stalking is an increasingly reported problem, with statistics showing that one in five British women and one in 10 British men have experienced stalking in their lifetime. In fact, most stalking victims are stalked by someone they know, most commonly a current/former intimate partner (40%) or an acquaintance (42%). In situations where the stalking and victim are acquaintances, about one-quarter are professional acquaintances.

Stalkers can be very dangerous, yet too often, stalking goes unrecognised and unaddressed – especially in the workplace. If one of your employees is being stalked or harassed, the damaging effect on the said individual can be profound. 

Victims may experience anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These issues can lead to physical health problems, such as stress-related illnesses, or an increased risk of developing chronic health conditions such as hypertension or cardiac disease. The stalking or harassment may have such an impact on the victim psychologically, that they are no longer fit to work, and it may be too dangerous for them to do so, especially if the stalker is a work colleague. 

Professionally, affected employees often show reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, and a higher likelihood of leaving the company. Recognising the signs of stalking and harassment early is crucial in mitigating these negative outcomes.

What legislation protects you against stalking/harassment in the workplace?

Protection from Harassment Act 1997

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was introduced to deal with stalking and protect individuals from harassment in a wide variety of disputes, making it a criminal and civil offence. As an employer, if you fail to address known workplace harassment incidents, this act holds you accountable. 

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

The 1997 Act didn’t explicitly name ‘stalking’ as a crime and stalking incidents were prosecuted under the general harassment offence. Back in 2012, the Protection of Freedoms Act amended the 1997 Act and created two new offences of stalking:

      • Section 2A: Stalking involving a course of conduct amounting to harassment.
      • Section 4A: Stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm/distress.

This aimed to make it easier to prosecute stalking and offer better protection to victims.

Stalking Protection Act 2019

The Stalking Protection Act 2019 introduced Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) as a civil order, which aims to protect victims of stalking. This order is made by the police and is completely free of charge for the victim. 

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination and harassment related to protected characteristics, including age, disability, race, religion, and sex. By law, all employers must prevent and address discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Failing to do so can result in legal action and significant penalties.

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment, including protection from bullying and harassment at work. 

Ten tips for employers when an employee faces stalking/harassment

1. Create a safe environment

As an employer, you must ensure that your workplace culture prioritises safety and support. There are many ways you can do this, including: 

      • Encouraging open communication and assuring employees they can come forward without fear or backlash. 
      • Installing security cameras and secure entrances.
      • Ensuring employees don’t hand out information about other employees (e.g. phone numbers, emails, etc.) to anyone
      • Creating ‘well-being champions’ who work alongside your HR department and are responsible for promoting positive mental well-being within the workplace.
      • Allowing flexible working hours.

It’s also important to clarify that stalking and harassment, whether inside or outside the workplace, will not be tolerated.

2. Train employees

Provide training and resources to educate employees about stalking and harassment, including recognising the warning signs and the appropriate steps to take if they feel targeted. 

Managers must be educated on how to deal with stalking in the workplace, ensuring that victims have someone to go to for disclosure of an incident and support throughout the process, even if they do not admit it’s happening to them. Ensure that all employees, whatever seniority, understand the company’s policies and procedures for reporting such incidents. 

3. Take reports seriously

If an employee discloses they are being stalked or harassed by someone outside of the company, take their report seriously. Listen to their concerns empathetically and assure them that their safety is a top priority. 

Ensure you document their report thoroughly and confidentially, and offer support in any way you can, for example, counselling or legal assistance. As an employer, you must take proactive steps to ensure the safety and well-being of the individual and to maintain open communication channels for ongoing support and follow-up.

4. Assess the risk

Working with the affected employee, assess the level of risk posed by the stalker or harasser on the employee. Here you can consider risks such as the nature of the harassment, any history of violence or threats, access to the victim, the escalation of behaviour over time, and the potential impact on the employee’s safety and well-being.

Once assessed, collaborate with HR, security, or legal experts, to conduct a risk assessment. From here, you can develop a tailored safety plan for the employee. 

5. Implement protective measures

Depending on the level of risk, you now need to implement appropriate protective measures to safeguard the employee. This could be changing their work schedule or location, providing escorts to and from work, or installing security measures such as alarms or cameras. 

Practical issues should also be considered such as allocating car parking spaces closure to the office and making reception/security aware of the issue. It may be worth considering changing employees’ email/telephone numbers and not making their details publicly accessible.

6. Collaborate with the police

Encourage the employee to report the stalking or harassment to the police if they haven’t already done so. Here, you can offer support and assistance in navigating the legal process, including providing documentation or witness statements if needed.

7. Offer support services

The affected employee has been through a lot at this stage. As mentioned earlier, providing access to counselling or support services can help them cope with the emotional toll of being stalked or harassed. Consider offering flexible leave options or accommodations to allow them time to address their personal safety concerns in their own time. 

At work, continue to encourage open communication and ensure the work environment remains supportive. Consider organising support groups or workshops for all employees to facilitate peer support and coping strategies. 

8. Monitor and review

Responsibility doesn’t end there. It’s crucial to consistently monitor the situation and reassess the risk to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the protective measures. 

At this stage, the worst thing you can do is go radio silent. Stay connected with the employee, maintaining open lines of communication and encouraging them to share any new developments when they arise. For instance, regular check-ins, conducting security audits of the workplace and staying updated on any behavioural changes of the stalker/harasser are all practical steps in this process. 

9. Document everything

Document everything and maintain detailed records of the stalking or harassment incidents reported by the employee, including dates, times, locations, descriptions of the events, any witnesses present, and actions taken by the employer to address them. 

These records serve as evidence and provide a comprehensive overview of the incident which may be useful for legal or investigative purposes if the situation escalates any further. 

10. Review policies and procedures

Periodically reviewing and updating your company’s policies and procedures related to stalking and harassment is essential. Remember, each case isn’t isolated and an incident like this could happen again and pose a significant risk to one of your employees.

By regularly assessing these protocols, you’re not only demonstrating a commitment to the safety of your employees but also proactively addressing emerging threats and challenges.

What if the harasser is an employee?

If the harasser is an employee, there are several important considerations:

      • Determine if the stalking or harassment took place ‘in the course of employment’, such as during work hours, at work events, or using work IT facilities and equipment.
      • Assess whether the complainant is another employee or someone outside the business.
      • Consider if the behaviour of the accused is harming the reputation of the business.

Once you’ve been through the list of considerations, the best way to ensure the victim’s immediate safety is to reassign the harasser or place them on leave during the investigation. It’s important for you as the employer to conduct a fair and unbiased investigation, allowing both the victim and accused to provide their accounts. If confirmed, it’s now your job to take appropriate disciplinary action. 

Given the sensitivity of such cases, seeking legal advice is recommended. 

Frequently asked questions

Can an employer be held liable for harassment by a third party?

Yes, under certain circumstances, employers can be liable if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment by clients, customers, or contractors. It is important to have policies that cover third-party interactions.

How can I balance confidentiality with the need to investigate?

Maintain confidentiality as much as possible, only disclosing information on a need-to-know basis. Ensure that all parties involved understand the importance of privacy and the consequences of breaching it.

What support can I offer to an employee who is a victim of stalking or harassment outside of work?

Provide resources such as counselling services and flexible working arrangements. Liaise with law enforcement if necessary and offer security measures if the stalking impacts the workplace.

How we can help

By taking proactive steps to support and protect employees who are being stalked or harassed by someone outside the company, employers can create a safer and more secure workplace environment for all. Remember, addressing these issues requires sensitivity, compassion, and a commitment to the well-being of your employees.

If you are navigating a situation where you have an employee who is being stalked/harassed, please contact our employment team for expert legal advice. We also have solicitors experienced in criminal law as well as employment law, so please do get in touch if you are unsure about your situation.


Other articles you may be interest in

non-compete clause

Non-compete clauses: Everything you need to know

Judicial mediation in employment tribunals

The role of judicial mediation in employment tribunals

Writing an employee privacy notice on a laptop.

A complete guide to Employee Privacy Notices (with examples)

1 of 3
Arrange a call today

Are you an individual or business looking for legal advice and representation?

Speak to a lawyer
  • Award-winning service
  • Authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority
  • Benchmark for quality