Employers are required to provide a working environment that is free from abuse and harassment. Despite this, many people still experience some form of bullying or harassment at work. It is important to be able to identify this type of treatment and know what legal protection is available.
There is no law against bullying. Harassment, however, is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 when it relates to any of the 9 protected characteristics:
- gender reassignment;
- marriage and civil partnership;
- pregnancy and maternity;
- religion or belief;
- sexual orientation.
Harassment under the Equality Act is not limited to conduct that violates a person’s dignity. It includes situations where an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive” environment is created for the employee. In other words, the law protects an employee who is a witness to harassment. Harassment can be physical, verbal or non-verbal and can occur through various modes of communication.
Workers are also protected under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which doesn’t require the harassment to be on any particular ground or basis. Claims under this Act are brought in the civil courts as opposed to the Employment Tribunal.
Harassment can include:
- Derogatory comments and offensive banter.
- Malicious rumours.
- Public humiliation.
- Regular and deliberate undermining.
- Exclusion or isolation.
- Unjustified or unfair discipline.
- Denial of training/ promotion opportunities.
- Application of unachievable targets.
The act may be perpetrated by the employer or fellow employees.
If you are a victim of harassment at work it is advisable to consult your organisation’s bullying and harassment policy which should explain the procedure to follow. If matters cannot be resolved internally (either informally or through the grievance process) you may have the option of bringing a claim.
You should not have to suffer in silence; doing so can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health. Report any unwanted behaviour and prevent it from escalating.