What is harassment?

The term 'harassment' is often used loosely in a work setting to describe unpleasant or bullying behaviour. However, in the context of the Equality Act, it has a specific meaning.

The harassment banned by the Equality Act is any unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person, related to a protected characteristic (e.g. sex, race, disability, etc.).

In serious cases (e.g. where a campaign has been waged against someone over a prolonged period), harassment may also be a criminal offence under the Public Order Act 1986 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Serious harassment that takes place online can also lead to criminal prosecution, for example under the Malicious Communications Act 1998.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.