There are no specific laws covering just the act of harassment or bullying in the workplace. If the harassment is on the grounds of sex, race (or any of the characteristics covered in the Equality Act), you are protected as this is a form of discrimination.
There is a criminal law called the “Protection from Harassment Act”, which of course covers the workplace. This tends to be for more serious offences, such as stalking or threatening someone, and normally requires that more than one serious incident has taken place before action can be taken. If a serious incident has taken place, for example assault, contact the Police immediately.
Harassment in the Workplace can be described as “Any unwanted attention that causes offence, embarrassment, humiliation, upset”. Where the harassment is based on sex, race or disability etc., the relevant discrimination law can be used to get protection and in serious cases, some compensation – which is unlimited and includes damages to feelings and loss of earnings.
Harassment can take many forms; offensive remarks, very personal comments, racist or sexist jokes, touching, calendars/screen savers or other displays, even foul and abusive language.
If you are suffering from harassment or bullying there are a number of steps you can take;
- Start to keep a diary of the incidents.
- Look for witnesses or support from a colleague.
- Confront the harasser and make it clear that their attentions are not welcome, ask a colleague to support you in this if it helps.
- Talk to your Employer, Personnel or HR Department for example.
- Talk to your Trade Union Representative – if there is one specialising in harassment issues, better still.
- Contact our Advice Line or speak to a solicitor
Remember that your Employer has a duty to protect you from harassment and bullying. It does not matter where the harassment is coming from, it could be an employee of another company or a member of the public.
Bullying at work may be a breach of health and safety law, depending on the level. In some cases it can become a criminal matter and the police may investigate.
In some cases the protection you enjoy extends to outside the actual place of work. The office Christmas Party is a classic example! If an incident happens outside work but involves work colleagues you may well have grounds for complaint. This would be the case even if the incident was at a Hotel or Social Club and outside normal working hours for example.
The is no current employment law covering Bullying at work. If you are being bullied at work, either raise a grievance, speak to your HR Department, contact your trade union or seek advice.