Bullying and harassment can deeply affect a person’s wellbeing both physically and mentally. It is important to know your rights and the legal recourses available if you are facing this at work.
The term “bullying” does not have a legal definition although if your firm’s policies have an anti-bullying policy you are likely to have a claim. “Harassment” is defined by the Equality Act 2010 and is a form of, but a separate claim to, discrimination.
Under the Act, harassment is unlawful if it is because of or connected to one of the following protected characteristics:
- Gender reassignment;
- Marriage or civil partnership;
- Religion or belief;
- Sexual orientation.
Harassment is defined as behaviour which is meant to or has the effect of either:
- violating your dignity, or
- creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
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.
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 do not.
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. It may also be possible to bring a claim for damages for harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which requires claimants to have suffered at least two acts of harassment.
If you are concerned about bullying or harassment in the workplace, or are considering resigning, it is important to seek professional advice.