Harrasment & Bullying

Harassment and bullying in the workplace are serious issues. Victims of harassment or bullying can feel degraded, humiliated and isolated. The fear of telling people that you are the victim of harassment or bullying is understandable. This could be a fear of retaliation, ridicule, embarrassment; or the just the fear that no-one will listen; but you do not have to put up with it.

What is harassment?

The Equality Act 2010 deals with harassment where it relates to a ‘protected characteristic’ such as a person’s race, sex, sexual orientation, religion and belief, disability or age and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 defines harassment in more general terms.

Under the Equality Act 2010, harassment takes place where a person engages in unwanted conduct on the grounds of a protected characteristic that violates someone’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment.

Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, harassment occurs when someone engages in a course of conduct that causes alarm or distress to another. Unlike the Equality Act 2010 where a single incident can amount to harassment, there must be at least two incidents for harassment to have taken place under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Is my employer liable for the actions of other members of staff?

Yes, in certain circumstances.

Employers can be liable for the actions of members of their staff that amount to harassment under either the Equality Act 2010 or the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Sometimes they can be liable even if they were not aware that the harassment was taking place and even if it is outside of working hours.

What is bullying?

There is no legal definition of bullying in the workplace, although it is, unfortunately, commonplace.

Bullying at work tends to give rise to one of two legal complaints:

  • It may be a form of harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997
  • Or it may amount to Constructive Dismissal if someone leaves their job as a result

Common features of bullying and harassment

The phrases bullying and harassment are often used interchangeably although the way that Employment Tribunals and Courts deal with them differ. What is the same in each case is the dramatic effect that the behaviour can have on the victim.

Bullying and harassment can take the form of words, silence, treatment or, in sometimes the worst cases, physical contact. It does not have to take place face to face. A lot of bullying and harassment takes place by email or text message. This is sometimes called ‘e-harassment’.

In some cases, a person can be harassed even if the conduct was not specifically aimed at them.

Some examples of bullying and harassment include:

  • Insulting words or behaviour
  • Suggestive remarks or unwanted sexual advances
  • Unfair treatment, particularly criticising others
  • Ostracising or excluding someone
  • Making threats
  • Undermining someone or overloading them with work
  • Treating people differently for no apparent reason

What should I do if I am being harassed at work?

There is no definitive way to approach bullying or harassment. Each case is different but here a few general pointers:

Try to resolve things informally with the person bullying and harassing you Make it clear that you do not find their conduct acceptable

Get support from a work colleague, someone you can confide in

Find out if your employer has a harassment policy – what does it say you should do if you think you are being harassed or bullied?

If you cannot resolve things informally, or you do not feel able to do so, think about using your employer’s grievance procedure

Get legal advice. Taking advice and understanding your position is a critical part of resolving a problem

What if I want to take legal action?

Take advice from one of our specialist employment solicitors about your legal rights. We offer meetings to explore what legal options might be available to you. We won't push you to make a claim unless you feel it’s the right thing to do.