Harassment and Bullying

Harassment and bullying are defined in the Equality Act 2010 as:

‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’.

Protected characteristic in the Equality Act refers to race, sex, disability, age, religion or belief. Harassment more generally is covered by The Prevention of Harassment Act (1997)

ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) define bullying as:

‘offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient’.

Examples of harassment and bullying may include

  • unwanted physical contact
  • shouting and verbal abuse
  • offensive remarks about a person’s age, dress, appearance, race or sexual orientation
  • offensive jokes, language and swearing
  • isolation or non-cooperation and exclusion from social activities
  • coercion for sexual favours
  • insulting or personal comments
  • unnecessary criticism or setting unachievable deadlines and targets
  • revealing confidential information to other employees
  • unfounded threats about job security

Harassment and bullying need not necessarily be face-to-face, it may be by letter, telephone, email or even.

Employers have a duty to protect their employees from harassment by third parties.  In the case of Gravell v London Borough of Bexley it was held that an employer who had informed an employee at induction that she was expected to ignore racially insulting behaviour was creating an offensive working environment.  This was despite the fact that the employer was not directly responsible for any comments.

It is also important to note that, insofar as harassment is concerned, it is not necessary for a claimant to hold the ‘protected characteristic’.  Effectively this means that a man may find abusive comments or jokes about women unacceptable.