Harassment and Victimisation

What is Harassment and Victimisation?


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

Harassment may include bullying behaviour and refers to cruel treatment that is related to a protected characteristic that are listed in the Equality Act 2010 as

  • Age,
  • Sex,
  • Disability,
  • Race,
  • Gender,
  • Religion,
  • Sexual Orientation.

Harassment is specifically covered in Equality Act 2010. This section covers three types or forms of harassment:

Related to Protected Characteristics

A person harasses another if:

(a)A engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and

(b)The conduct has the purpose or effect of:

  • Violating the victims dignity, or
  • Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Sexual Harassment

EA 2010 S. 26 (2) A also harasses B if:

  • A person sexually harasses another if they engage in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, and
  • The conduct has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Less Favourable Treatment Because of a Person’s Reaction to Harassment

A person harasses another in the workplace if:

  • A or another person engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or that is related to gender reassignment or sex,
  • The conduct has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, and
  • Because of the person’s rejection of or submission to the conduct, the treats the victim less favourably than they would treat victim if the victim had not rejected or submitted to the conduct.

Bullying and harassment can happen either

  • Face-to-face
  • By Letter
  • By Email
  • By Phone


  • Victimisation refers to bad treatment directed towards an individual who has made or is believed to have made or supported a complaint under the Equality Act 2010.
  • The law includes situations where a complaint has not been made but nonetheless is victimised because they are suspected that they may in fact make a complaint.
  • However, if a person gives false evidence or makes a false allegation, they will not be protected from victimisation under the Act.

Each of the following is a ‘protected act’:

(1) Bringing proceedings under the Equality Act 2010; giving evidence or information in connection with proceedings under the 2010 Act;

(2) Doing any other thing for the purposes of or in connection with the 2010 Act;

(3) Making an allegation, whether or not express, that A or another person has contravened the 2010 Act.

Employers Liability

  • Employers will be liable for unlawful acts committed by their employees in the course of employment, whether or not they know about the acts of their employees.

‘In the course of Employment’

In the course of employment has a wide meaning: it includes acts in the workplace and may also extend to circumstances outside such as work-related social functions or business trips abroad.

  • An employer could be liable for an act of discrimination which took place during a social event organised by the employer, such as an after-work party function or after work drinks.


A shopkeeper goes on holiday for three months and leaves an employee in charge of the shop. The employee then proceeds to harass a colleague with a learning disability, by constantly criticising how they does their work, which causes the employee to quit the job because of this unwanted conduct. This could amount to harassment related to disability and the shopkeeper could be responsible for the actions of his employee

How Employers Can Avoid Liability

An employer can avoid liability for unlawful acts committed by their employees, when the employer has taken all reasonable steps to prevent such acts.

If an employer ensures that all workers under their authority are made aware of policies on

  • Harassment,
  • The harassment of workers relating to any of the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act is unacceptable leading to disciplinary actions.
  • In addition, an employer will also ensure that managers receive training in applying this policy.

If once these policies have been implemented and an employee then harasses another employee in relation to one of the protected characteristics and the employer follows the policy and disciplines the employer, he/she will not be liable because they have taken all reasonable steps to stop the unlawful act.

Reasonable steps

  • Implementing an equality policy,
  • Ensuring workers are made aware of the policy,
  • Providing equal opportunities training,
  • Reviewing the equality policy as appropriate,
  • Dealing effectively with employee complaints.


While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in this article, it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. Each legal case and issue may have unique facts and circumstances, as a result legalally does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance upon the information provided. For further help and guidance, you can always rely on and seek advice from our experienced lawyers.

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