Manager ‘not an employee and not entitled to duty of care’
A manager has lost a bullying and harassment claim after the High Court ruled that he could not be classed as an employee and so the company he worked for did not owe him a duty of care.
The case involved a manager who operated a number of petrol stations under a retail business agreement (RBA) with an oil company. Under the agreement, he was obliged to buy fuel and other products from the company but he was also allowed to sell other goods and retain the profits.
He alleged that he had been subjected to serious ill-treatment by company employees which amounted to bullying and harassment. He said this caused a stress-related illness and led to him suffering financial losses. He was then dismissed by the company for allegedly breaching the terms of the RBA.
The manager sought damages for the psychological injury caused by bullying and harassment. He claimed he was owed a duty of care as an employee under a contract of service, or alternatively, that he was a worker offered protection under the Employment Rights Act 1996.
The High Court ruled against him. It said the terms of the RBA meant that he was an independent contractor who was entitled to retain profits on his own goods, and employ people to meet the needs of his business.
He was not an employee and so the company did not owe him a duty of care not to expose him to stress.
The judge added that in any case, for a claim of harassment to succeed, the manager would need to show that there was conduct which crossed the line from unreasonable to oppressive, and which was targeted and calculated. That had not happened in this case. The company had dealt with the manager in accordance with its contractual rights and had not harassed him.
Please contact Robert Bedford if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.