Situations of harassment at work

The Equality Act 2010 is there to protect the individual from being harassed at work, whether this behaviour is coming from the employer or from the individual’s colleagues. It covers a variety of contexts including comments and behaviours that may be regarded as aggressive or offensive, even if this is presented in a joking manner.

If you think you have been harassed in the workplace, the likelihood is that you may be able to get redress for this situation.

What constitutes as harassment?

Harassment is a type of behaviour that you may not want, behaviour that may offend your self-respect or intimidate or embarrass you. Even if the behaviour is not specifically directed at you, if you are exposed to such behaviour because you can hear or see what is happening, this may be regarded as harassment according to the Equality Act and you are entitled to ask for legal intervention in this regard.

In cases where you feel that you have been a victim of harassment but this action does not fall under unlawful discrimination, you may have other courses of action available to you: you can make a complaint with your employer or you can also make a claim under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997

What type of actions can be termed as harassment?

The Equality Act defines a number of specific areas under which actions are regarded as unlawful discrimination and can be defined as harassment. These specific areas are called protected characteristics and include behaviours relating to or referring to a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religious or other beliefs, race, disability or age. Such actions are regarded as unlawful and in breach of the Equality Act.

Harassment during and after pregnancy

If you feel that you are being harassed because of being pregnant or because you recently gave birth, the Equality Act does not specifically include this type of harassment in its clauses. However, you still have recourse to make a complaint because the harassment is related to your sex.

What constitutes sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is also covered by the Equality Act. This type of harassment includes any type of behaviour that is sexual in nature. Sexual harassment can include a variety of actions from circulating emails, photos, pictures that have sexual content; joking and other comments that include sexual connotations; to actual physical behaviour that may include anything from touching to advances and actual physical assault.

Your employer is duty-bound to protect you from harassment

Whether you are being harassed at work or even outside work on company social activities or work trips, according to the Equality Act your employer is obliged to protect you from such harassment and to put a stop to it.

If one of your colleagues is harassing you, you are entitled to report your colleague AND your employers to the employment tribunal. Your employers will not be liable if they can show that they did take action and took what is termed as reasonable steps to ensure that employees do not harass each other. In this case, you may still be able to seek redress and compensation from the specific colleague who subjected you to harassment

Harassment by people outside the organisation

If you are harassed by someone who is outside the employers’ direct remit, such as a client, your employers are not directly responsible.

However, if this situation arises and you draw the employers’ attention to this by making a complaint and no remedial action is taken, the employers may still be liable and culpable for this harassment and this may be regarded as direct discrimination if the harassment refers to one of the protected characteristics.