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Bullying and harassment

What is harassment?

Harassment is any unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.  It can be a one-off act or a series of incidents.
 
If the unwanted conduct is related to one of the nine characteristics given special protection under equality law, the harassment may well be unlawful.  The protected characteristics are as follows: 
 
  • Age;
  • Disability;
  • Gender reassignment;
  • Marriage and civil partnership;
  • Pregnancy and maternity;
  • Race;
  • Religion or belief;
  • Sex; and
  • Sexual orientation. 

Equality law also prohibits sexual harassment, which is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.  If you are treated less favourably because of either submitting to or rejecting unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, that would also be sexual harassment.
 
In the workplace, if the unwanted conduct is not related to the protected characteristics listed above, the harassment may still be a breach of an employer’s duties of trust and confidence to its staff.
 
Harassment does not only occur in the workplace.  Harassment by service providers, such as hospitals, banks, local authorities, transport providers, housing associations, prisons, and other public and private organisations may also be unlawful.
 
Harassment can include, for example:
 
  • Racist or sexist name-calling or jokes;
  • Unwanted physical contact, including pinching, pushing and grabbing;
  • Unwelcome and intrusive questions of a private nature;
  • Offensive letters, emails, text messages, social media content or telephone calls;
  • Mocking, mimicking or belittling a person, for example, because of their disability, gender identity, religion or sexuality.

Please note that the examples above are not an exhaustive list and many other unwanted acts could also amount to harassment. 

What is bullying?

Bullying is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour involving the misuse of power that can make someone feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened.  Power does not always mean being in a position of authority, but can include personal strength and/or the power to coerce through fear or intimidation.  As with harassment, bullying can take the form of physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct.
 
Bullying in the workplace may be a breach of an employer’s duties of trust and confidence to its staff.  Depending on the reasons for the bullying, it may also be unlawful under equality law. 

How can Leigh Day help you?

If you have been affected by bullying or harassment, whether in the workplace or by a service provider, and you wish to see whether Leigh Day can assist you, please contact postbox@leighday.co.uk or call 020 7650 1200.
 
You may be looking for an apology or to ensure that the harassment does not occur again.  You may be looking for compensation for the way you have been treated.  Whatever your reason for seeking legal advice, we understand that it can be difficult to speak out about bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, and we will ensure that any enquiries to Leigh Day will be dealt with sensitively and in the strictest confidence.

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