Harassment and bullying

Topic Index
Duty to investigate
Employer’s liability
Protection from Harassment Act
Possible claims



  • Harassment is defined as 'unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment' (s. 26 Equality Act 2010).
  • There is no separate legal definition of bullying but the courts have stated that they will recognise it when they see it. Bullying behaviour may result in constructive dismissal claims or involve breaches of health and safety legislation.
  • Harassment includes verbal and non-verbal abuse; general conduct which creates an intimidating work environment, e.g. where there is a homophobic attitude' and intentional and unintentional acts.
  • The motive/intention of the harasser is irrelevant (it may explain but will not excuse).
  • Harassment usually consists of persistent acts - although a single occurrence, provided it is serious enough, can amount to harassment.
  • Harassment may also amount to a criminal act.
  • The test for harassment requires some objectivity, i.e. would a reasonable person consider the conduct to be harassment. This generally means that a very sensitive employee who takes offence unreasonably at a harmless comment will not be held to have been harassed.
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