Workplace Harassment Under Discrimination Law

For all types of harassment, the behaviour you’re complaining about has to be something you didn’t want. The law calls this ‘unwanted conduct’.

You also always need to show that the person who harassed you meant to make you feel a certain way, or that you felt that way even though it wasn’t their intention. This is called ‘purpose or effect’. If the person didn’t mean to make you feel this way, it also has to be ‘reasonable’ that you felt that way.

You need to show that the purpose or effect of the conduct was that it violated your dignity or created an environment that:

  • humiliates you
  • offends you
  • intimidates you
  • is hostile
  • is degrading

You also have to show that your situation is covered by one of the 3 types of harassment in discrimination law.

The 1st type

  • is where the unwanted conduct is related to a relevant ‘protected characteristic’ like sex or race.

The 2nd type

  • is where the unwanted conduct is of a sexual nature.

The 3rd type

  • is where you’re treated worse because of rejecting or submitting to unwanted sexual behaviour or behaviour related to gender reassignment or sex. This is called ‘being treated less favourably’.

It doesn’t matter if the behaviour is directed at you or not – for example, if you overhear your colleagues making racist jokes or comments to each other.

Harassment is covered by Section 26 of the Equality Act 2010.

You don’t have to have a written contract for your employer to be responsible for discrimination against you.

You are covered by the law if you are:

  • an employee
  • an apprentice
  • working under an agreement with them that you’ll personally do work and they’ll pay you for it
  • a former employee

This includes casual and zero hours workers and some self-employed people and freelancers.

There are extra rules to protect people who are employed by one business but work for another, such as agency workers.

You should always get help from an adviser before you decide to take action against a colleague.

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