Harassment can take many forms and can be experienced in many places. Whether it be at work, in public or between friends, knowing what harassment is and how to confront it can be crucial.
What Is Harassment?
Harassment is defined as one person treating another in such a way that the other feels offended, bullied or even humiliated. This behaviour is typically unwanted and causes the person to feel embarrassed and intimidated. While harassment can come from many people, and take place in many different areas, the majority of harassment claims come from the workplace.
Your sexual orientation or gender identity are protected under the Equality Act 2010, so any form of harassment against you based on these qualities is breaking the law. For example, if a woman was being called names and made to feel uncomfortable by an employer or colleague in the workplace on the basis that she is lesbian, this would be harassment and discrimination, as she is being harassed for her sexual orientation, which is a protected characteristic.
You should know…
1. You don’t have to possess a protected characteristic for harassment to apply. A straight man who is called names such as ‘gay’ or ‘poof’ for example can say he is being harassed. While the behaviour would not be covered under the Equality Act 2010 as the man is not gay, if he can demonstrate the behaviour is unwanted, the complaint for harassment will likely still stand.
2. You also don’t need to be the person being directly bullied to claim harassment. For example, if you overhear colleagues telling racist jokes, this may be harassment regardless of your race, as again, this may be unwanted conduct.
Harassment vs Victimisation
Harassment is often confused with victimisation, but the two terms cannot be used interchangeably from a legal perspective.
Harassment is unwanted behaviour or unfavourable treatment based on:
- A protected characteristic, such as sexual orientation, race, or gender reassignment; or
- Actions taken that are of a sexual nature, such as colleagues making suggestive comments
- A reaction to another form of harassment, for example, if you are refused time off by your manager after they made sexual advances towards you
Victimisation occurs when an employee is treated differently either because they have complained about harassment or discrimination, or because it is suspected they are about to. Victimisation can also apply to a second employee that has supported another in their complaint of discrimination.
What Should You Do When Facing Harassment?
If you think you may be facing harassment at work, you should always raise your concerns with your employer first and allow them the opportunity to deal with the issue.
If you simply quit your job and try to take your employer to the tribunal without first asking for their help, it’s likely you will lose.
By raising a complaint, your employer is duty-bound to take action. Should they fail to do so and the unwanted behaviour continues, you may be able to raise a claim against them provided you can prove they did not take reasonable steps to prevent repeated harassment.
Where complaints have been raised and harassment continues, your employer must prove that they have taken all reasonable steps to stop the behaviour from happening again for an employee’s claim to fail.
How a Lawyer Can Help
It’s often better to speak to a lawyer to understand whether your claim has any basis before putting yourself through the stress of preparing for a full tribunal.
If you have a claim, a lawyer will help you decide how to raise it, for example against the colleague harassing you, or against the company, or both jointly.
Finally, they will also help you evaluate any settlement offers you receive and whether you should be considering accepting them. There can be penalties for failing to accept a fair settlement offer if you go on to lose your claim.
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