Harassment at work
You have the right not to be harassed at work – a guide to your rights is laid out below
- Harassment at work – an overview
- The legal definition of harassment at work
- Protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010
- Examples of harassment at work
- Harassment at work cases in the newspaper
- Action you can take if you’re being harassed at work
- Making an Employment Tribunal claim if you’re being harassed at work
- Who is liable for harassment at work
- What happens if you’re victimized for making a Tribunal complaint of harassment
If you’re an independent contractor or an employee in a workplace then you are protected from being bullied and harassed at work because of a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
It is unlawful for you to be subject to being bullied or harassed in the workplace because of a protected characteristic (such as, for example, your race, age, disability, or sexual orientation). You may be able to claim damages from your employer if you are subjected to unlawful harassment.
It is also unlawful for you to be sexually harassed at work or harassed because of your previous rejection of or submission to harassment. More can be read about these issues on the following page:
Harassment at work is defined under s.26 of the Equality Act 2010:
“Conduct” is any act or omission by any person – this can be written, verbal or physical in nature. The conduct must also be “unwanted” by the person who is being harassed – if, for example, the person claiming that they are being harassed has previously engaged in and encouraged actions which are potentially harassing in nature then this may damage their case.
The conduct must also relate to a “protected characteristic” of the person claiming that they have been harassed – this is explained below at “Protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010”.
What is “in the course of employment” can sometimes be a grey area – if you’re harassed whilst sitting at your desk in your workplace then it is pretty clear that this is in the course of employment. However, some examples are less clear-cut – what if you’re harassed by a colleague on an evening out with work-mates, for instance? Each case very much depends on its particular facts and circumstances and you should seek expert employment law advice if you think you have been harassed at work.
The conduct must also have the “purpose or effect” of harassing you – if you can’t show that the conduct had the purpose of harassing you then you must be able to show that the conduct has upset you in some fashion by violating your dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you.
Did you know?
If you’ve been subjected to unlawful harassment at work then you may be able to make a claim to the Employment Tribunal for (among other things) damages for injury to feelings and, if applicable, lost earnings.
There are nine “protected characteristics” under the Equality Act 2010. These are:
- Race – See Race discrimination at work
- Sex – See Sex discrimination at work
- Disability – See Disability discrimination at work
- Age – see Age discrimination at work
- Religious or philosophical belief
- Gender orientation
- Sexual orientation
- Pregnancy or maternity leave – See Discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity leave
- Marriage or civil partnership
- In front of her male colleagues, a female electrician is told by her supervisor that her work is below standard and that, as a woman, she will never be competent to carry it out. The supervisor goes on to suggest that she should instead stay at home to cook and clean for her husband. This could amount to harassment related to sex as such a statement would be self-evidently unwanted and the electrician would not have to object to it before it was deemed to be unlawful harassment.
- If a worker with a hearing impairment is verbally abused because he wears a hearing aid, this could amount to harassment related to disability
- During a training session attended by both male and female workers, a male trainer directs a number of remarks of a sexual nature to the group as a whole. A female worker finds the comments offensive and humiliating to her as a woman. She would be able to make a claim for harassment, even though the remarks were not specifically directed at her
- Receptionist ‘was hit and called black slave and dog by Qatari Embassy official’ (The Evening Standard)
- Richard Scudamore’s ‘sexist emails’ secretary sues Premier League alleging discrimination (The Mirror)
- TV presenter sacked over hand gesture wins payout for sexual harassment (The Guardian)
- Line manager’s St Patrick’s day comment leads Employment Tribunal to uphold racial harassment claim (Xpert HR)
If you think that you are being sexually harassed at work then you should take action as soon as possible. Below are some examples of what you can do:
- Inform your line manager that you believe that you are being harassed and provide details. Make sure that you put a complaint in writing (preferably by email so that there is a time and date stamp on the complaint and you can prove that it has been sent to the relevant person) and keep a copy. If you think that it is your line manager who is harassing you then make a complaint so someone else in a position of authority in your organisation.
- Make a formal complaint (known as a “grievance”) to your HR department and also keep a copy of this
- Obtain specialist advice from a qualified person – you can either consult a lawyer directly or make an appointment with the Citizens Advice Bureau to obtain initial advice
- Collect evidence of the incidents that you think constitute harassment. An important thing to do is to keep a diary of all of the incidents of harassment that you think that you have suffered and to record exactly who was involved and what happened. Try and obtain any witness evidence that you can from colleagues who have seen or heard things. Keep any letters, emails, minutes of meetings etc. that you think are relevant.
Speak to one of our expert employment solicitors about your case
If you think that you’ve been subjected to harassment in the workplace then call one of our expert employment solicitors for a free consultation to discuss a potential Employment Tribunal claim today
020 3397 3603
If you want to make an Employment Tribunal claim for harassment then you must do the following:
- Make your claim within three months of the last date of harassment/discrimination (this is also known as the “limitation date”). The last date of discrimination or harassment can often be difficult to pinpoint so you must be extremely careful that you do not fall outside of the three-month period
- Gather enough evidence to allow you to prove your case in the Tribunal – this includes both documentary evidence and, if applicable, witness evidence.
It’s important to note that (unlike, for example, unfair dismissal claims) you don’t need to have worked for your employer for any particular length of time to make a claim for harassment – you have the right to do this from “day one”.
Under the Equality Act 2010 both the colleague who has sexually harassed you and the business that employed you may be liable in any Employment Tribunal claim.
If you’ve been sexually harassed at work by a colleague of yours then both your colleague and the business that employs you may be liable for sexual harassment (unless your employer can successfully employ a defence to your harassment claim
If you do any of the acts listed below (known as a “protected act”) and are then subjected to any form of detriment or dismissal because you have done so then you may be able to make a claim for “victimization” under the Equality Act. A protected act can include:
- Making or threatening to make an informal or formal complaint about harassment (or any other form of harassment or discrimination) within your organisation
- Helping a colleague to make a complaint or helping them with their Employment Tribunal claim regarding harassment or discrimination
- Making or threatening to make an Employment Tribunal claim for discrimination or harassment