Under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA), harassment is a type of discrimination and is therefore unlawful in the UK. Unfortunately, this does not mean that workplace harassment does not exist, but if you do experience harassment at work then you can take action.
Workplace harassment can be deeply unsettling, affecting not just an employee’s professional life but also their mental well-being. If you would like to put a stop to the behaviour you are experiencing, below we have explored how you can fight unlawful harassment and the different legal avenues available for UK employees.
Understanding Harassment in the Workplace
Under the EqA, harassment at work is defined as unwanted behaviour linked to a protected characteristic, such as;
- Gender reassignment
- Sexual orientation
- Ethnic or national origin
- Religion or belief
The behaviour experienced can cause emotional or physical suffering. It creates a humiliating, intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment and violates an employee’s dignity.
Unlike other types of discrimination, it can be hard to determine harassment. The person responsible for the behaviour may not be aware that they are causing harm and sometimes, the behaviour actually amounts to something less serious. That being said, you should not overlook unwanted behaviour in the workplace that causes you emotional or physical suffering.
Steps to Tackle Workplace Harassment
There are a few different ways you can deal with harassment in the workplace. The specific circumstances of your situation will impact the advice provided by an employment law expert and every case is unique. If you experience harassment, you can;
If you feel comfortable doing so, you can speak directly to the person who is harassing you, making it abundantly clear that their behaviour is unacceptable. Sometimes, this can help to stop the misconduct, especially if they were not aware of the distress they were causing.
Even if you decide to speak to the harasser, it is beneficial to keep a detailed record of each incident including; dates, times and locations. You should also make a note of what happened when you confronted them. This information can be incredibly beneficial should you decide to pursue other legal avenues in the future.
At this stage, it can also be useful to speak to colleagues who might have witnessed the harassment. You can also speak to others who have experienced similar behaviour themselves from the same person or group. Any corroborative testimonies can support your case.
It is advisable to speak to a supervisor, line manager or HR representative about the harassment you have experienced. If they are not the harassers, they should be your first point of contact and they can help you make an informal complaint internally. Remember to keep a record of all communications with superior employees or your employer.
After receiving an informal complaint, your employer should start an investigation and look to take action. This action can differ quite significantly depending on the severity of the harassment and also who was involved in the behaviour.
If you are unhappy with the way that the situation has been handled following an informal discussion with a superior colleague, you have the option to raise a formal grievance with your employer. In this situation, they are obliged to investigate and should follow a full and fair grievance procedure. They will also need to abide by the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures and it is beneficial to familiarise yourself with this code.
If the harassment is very serious, you may wish to skip the informal reporting and go straight to a formal grievance.
Following a formal grievance procedure, if you are unsatisfied with the outcome and the issue is still not resolved, you may want to consider other legal avenues. There are a couple of different ways you can legally resolve harassment in the workplace;
- Employment Tribunal – You may be able to make a claim to the Employment Tribunal if the harassment falls into one of the EqA categories. You should seek Employment Tribunal representation from a legal professional with expertise in discrimination and harassment. Please note, there is a time limit for making a claim and you typically have three months less one day from the last instance of harassment to make a claim.
- Civil Court – If the harassment is particularly severe and has resulted in psychological harm, you may wish to pursue civil legal action. You can also make a County Court claim if the harassment does not fall within the EqA protection. There are some considerations, for instance, you must establish that your employer knew in advance that the behaviour would cause psychological harm and you will be personally liable for any legal costs if the claim is not proven.
Whenever you are considering legal action, it is important to consult a lawyer or solicitor who specialises in employment law. They can guide you through your options and potential outcomes, helping you to make the best decision in your specific circumstances.
Protection Against Retaliation
It is worth noting that the Equality Act 2010 also protects against victimisation. This is another type of discrimination that occurs after a complaint has been made about behaviour experienced in the workplace. If you face any retaliation after making a harassment complaint, such as being left out or treated unfavourably, you may also be able to make a claim for victimisation. Make sure you continue to document any comments or actions made and speak to your legal representative to see if you can make an additional claim.
Making an Employment Tribunal Claim for Harassment
Now you know more about workplace harassment and the legal avenues for UK employees, if you would like to make an Employment Tribunal claim, contact our team at Nationwide Employment Lawyers. Our experienced harassment lawyers in London can guide you through the process of making a claim and advise you on whether this is the best option in your unique situation. They can put your mind at ease throughout the process.