What Is Harassment at Work?
Harassment and bullying are sometimes used interchangeably, though both words are not precisely referring to the same action. If you are being mistreated because of a “protected characteristic”, you are being a victim of harassment. Otherwise, you are simply being bullied, which still entitles you to a certain legal action.
These are examples of workplace bullying/harassment:
- Excessive and/or seemingly unwarranted criticism, especially in public
- Obnoxious verbal abuse, teasing, or unwelcome sexual advances
- Threats regarding your job security
- Public humiliation
- Offensive jokes that are damaging to your dignity
Harassment can also occur subtly and without apparent intention to offend at first. Nevertheless, you could claim you are being harassed if you demonstrate persistent-enough behaviour capable of causing psychological harm to any reasonable person and creating an offensive environment.
Harassment may even involve physical violence on some occasions, potentially meriting the intervention of the police.
- What Is Harassment at Work?
- Victimisation and Discrimination
- What is a “Relevant Protected Characteristic”?
- What are The Usual “Excuses”?
- What Actions Can I Take If I’m Harassed at Work?
- Vicarious Liability
- How to Make a Formal Grievance
- Employment Tribunal Claim and Job Harassment
- We Can Help You Deal with Workplace Bullying and Harassment
- Frequently Asked Questions
Victimisation and Discrimination
Discrimination and victimisation also describe unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic, though these are slightly different from workplace harassment.
Discrimination is essentially a detriment you suffer due to having a protected characteristic. This detriment can be a specific action, measure, or policy by your employer against a particular group (direct discrimination), or it can be a company policy that applies equally to all but ends up impairing said group within the workforce unreasonably (indirect discrimination).
Examples of a detriment are the denial of a promotion or your exclusion from social activities or gatherings. In these situations, you can make a complaint or submit a discrimination claim.
Victimisation is similar to discrimination but results from a discrimination grievance/claim you made or your involvement in another person’s procedure. You don’t have to possess any protected characteristic in order to enjoy victimisation protection.
What is a “Relevant Protected Characteristic”?
Protected characteristics are personal traits that can’t be used as an excuse to discriminate against. According to the Equality Act 2010, these protected characteristics are:
- Marriage/civil partnership
- Sexual orientation
- Gender reassignment
- Religious belief
Moreover, some actions – such as odious jokes – don’t have to be directed towards you necessarily in order to be counted as harassment. You’re entitled to file a claim even if you were accidentally made aware of these jokes.
What are The Usual “Excuses” for Job Harassment?
These are the excuses that you could expect your employer or coworkers to bring up:
- Banter: This is the typical “it’s just a joke” excuse. You might argue they have crossed the line, especially if you already informed your harassers that the jokes made you feel uncomfortable
- Constructive criticism: Many employers/colleagues conceal harassment under the pretext that they’re offering “constructive criticism”. However, when they use foul or condescending language while doing so, or they indulge in this criticism more often than needed, it can be construed easily as harassment
- Personality clash: This is also called “victim provocation”. The offender frequently turns the accusation against you as the victim by alleging that you were at fault and that their behaviour was merely a reaction. This would not be a sufficient excuse to attack you based on a protected characteristic.
What Actions Can I Take If I’m Harassed at Work?
If you are being harassed, there are various routes you can take. The safest approach is to try to resolve the problem internally.
Speak informally with your employer to let them know your concerns. If necessary, look up information in your workplace on how to make a formal grievance. If the harassers are your colleagues, your employer is responsible for ensuring that they’re correctly averted or disciplined.
Nonetheless, it’s important to be mindful that these issues could conceivably emerge because the people engaging in unwanted behaviour were not genuinely conscious that it was hurtful to you. Hence, internal talks could mend the fence without involving a third party or even your employer.
If these people don’t recant from their behaviour or get more aggressive, you can take matters into the hands of people with more authority. These can be your superior or the appropriate HR department. If nothing is done on their part, you could file a claim at an employment tribunal.
Your employer can bear liability for their employees’ behaviour (called vicarious liability) in the following cases:
- You raised a complaint, and your employer did not bother to analyse it or issue a proper corrective
- They witnessed the harassment and didn’t do anything
- They said they were going to address the problem but didn’t follow through
Our job harassment lawyers can advise and support you in ensuring your rights are protected and you are compensated if you face harassment. Call us today on 03334149244.
How to Make a Formal Grievance
To raise a formal complaint, you should draft a letter (or email, preferably) and send it to the person responsible for hearing grievances according to the company’s policies, the staff handbook, or your contract of employment.
If you have trouble finding out who to direct your grievance to, speak to someone in HR who can point you in the right direction.
The letter has to detail the following:
- Why you’re raising your complaint
- The evidence you’re presenting
- The actions you’d want your boss to take
Your boss would have to follow either the procedure in the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures or the company’s internal guidelines. In any event, they need to arrange a meeting with you to discuss your concern and allow you to make your case.
Employment Tribunal Claim and Job Harassment
Your harassment claim has to be made within three months from the date of the last offence. If you felt forced to resign because of the harassment, you’d want to file a constructive dismissal claim and add harassment as the main reason to be awarded compensation for “injury to feelings”.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to resign if you want to claim compensation on harassment, so you can remain in your job and still receive compensation. You also won’t have to meet a continuous employment requirement to do so. You’re entitled to a harassment claim even if it happened during your first working week.
In the case of bullying, you should resign first and claim constructive dismissal. Constructive unfair dismissal results from a breach of mutual trust on the part of your employer (leading to your justified resignation) and has the same effect as an unfair dismissal.
If you resign due to harassment, you can claim constructive dismissal even if you have worked for your employer for less than two continuous years. This is because the reason (unfair treatment due to a relevant protected characteristic) is deemed “automatically unfair”.
Bullying and harassment are commonplace in working relationships, though these should never be tolerated and should always be tackled as quickly as possible. Situations like these can take a toll on your mental health and could potentially hamper your career for years to come, which is why you should not refrain from upholding your rights out of fear of reprisal.
Our employment lawyers have a vast experience in workplace bullying and harassment cases and are qualified to help you deal with any of the legal struggles you may come across when asserting your equality rights against your employer and other colleagues.
We offer tailored advice adjusted to your current circumstances and taking into account every possible element that could improve your odds.
For more information about our services, call our job harassment solicitors at 03334149244.
In general, sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that can be directed towards anyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender.
This harassment can be:
- Verbal – Sexual requests, comments, or threats
- Non-verbal – Indecent staring, display of explicitly sexual content or pictures taken without authorisation
- Physical – Non-consented hugging, kissing, stroking, or touching
Sexual harassment is different from sexual assault and rape. Rape and sexual assault are violent attempts at obtaining sexual gratification by penetrating a sexual organ.
Nevertheless, sexual harassment could have the perpetrator face a maximum of six months in prison or an unlimited fine, according to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
It’s not enough for your employer to allege that they had anti-harassment policies in place. They also have to do everything in their power to enforce them and take the necessary disciplinary actions against wrongdoers.
If you were assaulted due to your “protected characteristic”, you could report that to the police (and it’s heavily advised that you do so). These are some examples of criminal offences that you may report:
- Physical and sexual assault
- Hate crime (e.g., homophobia, racial abuse, etc.)
- Violence threat
Your employer can also offer support and even make the report on your behalf, but not before consulting with you. They could only tell the police without your consent if there’s an ongoing risk to their safety and that of other employees in the workforce.