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Many workers complain about being bullied or harassed in the workplace. But what is the difference and what legal rights do you have?

The term “bullying” does not have a legal definition. “Harassment” is defined by the Equality Act 2010 (the “Act”) and is a form of discrimination.

This page will deal with harassment. You can find more information on victimisation here.

Under the Act, harassment is unlawful if it is because of or connected to one of the following protected characteristics:

Harassment is defined as behaviour which is meant to or has the effect of either:

According to the ECHR Statutory Code of Practice on Employment, unwanted conduct covers a wide range of behaviour, including spoken or written words or abuse, imagery, graffiti, physical gestures, facial expressions, mimicry, jokes, pranks, acts affecting a person’s surroundings or other physical behaviour.

  • Age;
  • Disability;
  • Gender reassignment;
  • Race;
  • Religion or belief;
  • violating your dignity, or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment

Harassment related to maternity or pregnancy is not covered directly by the legislation but, in many cases, it can be harassment related to sex. You can also be harassed because of a protected characteristic that someone thinks you have, even if you don’t.

Sexual harassment occurs when a person engages in unwanted behaviour which is of a sexual nature and which has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating your dignity, or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you.

Sexual harassment can also be less favourable treatment of a worker because they submit to, or reject, sexual harassment or harassment related to sex or gender reassignment.

Bullying could be a form of harassment. However, it is not possible to make a direct complaint to an Employment Tribunal about bullying if it is not related to one of the protected characteristics listed above.

If you are being bullied, but the bullying is not related to a protected characteristic, you may be able to resign and claim constructive dismissal in the Employment Tribunal. There is a minimum continuous employment requirement of 2 years to bring this type of claim.

If you are concerned about bullying or harassment in the workplace, or are considering resigning, it is important to seek professional advice.

Please contact us today for a free no obligation consultation by calling either our London or High Wycombe offices on the telephone numbers referred to at the top of this page, or by email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Our Employment Law Team

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