I am being harassed by my manager. What can I do?

Harassment generally takes the form of unwanted conduct, which affects the dignity of women and men at work. This may be related to your disability, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or belief, age, marital status, or trade union or non-trade union membership. 

You are entitled to work in a safe workplace and this includes a workplace free from harassment or bullying. Your employer should take your complaint seriously, investigate it promptly and put an end to any unacceptable behaviour. 

Harassment may be deliberate and conscious, but it can also be unintentional. Harassing behaviour might include, for example: 

  • being shouted at; 

  • being called names; 

  • being the subject of 'jokes', banter, insults, taunts, jibes; 

  • being the subject of literature, graffiti; 

  • being sent offensive tweets, texts or emails; 

  • being excluded from conversations; 

  • being put down about the way you dress or speak; 

  • being denied certain benefits; 

  • being overlooked for promotion and/or training; 

  • being bullied; and 

  • being propositioned. 

Your employer should have a policy about harassment at work. Get hold of a copy and find out what it says and how you might go about raising such issues with management. If there is a union recognised at your workplace, speak to your rep

Make sure you make a note of the behaviour you believe to be harassment, when it took place and by whom. Keep copies of any written evidence. Also note down a record of your efforts to have the problem dealt with, and any change in the behaviour of management or your colleagues towards you as a result of you making a complaint. 

Your employer may make available trained counsellors identified within the organisation to whom you can go and talk in confidence. If you are a member of a trade union, talk to your union representative. If you feel confident enough, you might be prepared to talk to the individual(s) you believe is/are displaying harassing behaviour. Explain your feelings and ask them to change their behaviour. They may not have appreciated the effect their behaviour is having on you. 

If the behaviour persists, whether you have spoken to the culprits or not, you may have to follow your organisation's policy on harassment. If the organisation does not have a specific policy, you may have to use your organisation's grievance procedure. You have a legal right to be accompanied at the grievance meeting. 

If you are being harassed by your manager, your employer should make sure that your complaint is dealt with by another manager, preferably one at a more senior level. 

Normally, you should use your organisation’s grievance procedure in the first instance. However, if you decide that you want to enforce your legal rights, you will have to bring an employment tribunal claim. Be aware that there are strict time limits in the employment tribunal. You must not miss the deadline for bringing your tribunal claim, even if your employer has not yet dealt with your grievance. Otherwise the tribunal is unlikely to hear it. Be sure to take legal advice. 

In 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission released important new guidance on all forms of harassment which sets out standards that employers are expected to meet. This is a useful resource to look at if you want to understand the standards your employer should be meeting and persuade them to take action. 

In particular, the new guidance suggests that employers should:  

  • develop policies in consultation with any recognised trade union and train staff to implement those policies; 

  • maintain centralised records in enough detail to enable trends to be analysed; 

  • conduct staff surveys; 

  • use “lessons learned” sessions once complaints have been resolved; 

  • listen to feedback from employees, for example through exit interviews; 

  • proactively watch for the warning signs of workplace harassment and bullying, beyond formal and informal complaints, such as increased sickness absence, changes in behaviour, comments in exit interviews, a dip in performance or avoidance of a certain colleague. 

The guidance recommends ways to enable workers to raise issues and sets out what employers should do if workers ask for no action to be taken. 

The first step before bringing any tribunal claim is to submit an Acas Early Conciliation Notification Form. Acas early conciliation is free. You can find out more about Acas early conciliation. If you do not follow this procedure, the employment tribunal will not be able to hear your claim. 

You can find out more about bringing a tribunal claim, including Acas early conciliation, in our Enforcing Your Rights section. 

In extreme cases, where the harassment is so serious that it could amount to a criminal offence, it is possible to take legal action under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. 

If the harassment takes place online, there are also separate laws, such as the Malicious Communications Act 1988. Speak to your union for advice about the best way of tackling online harassment. 

If what you have experienced is not a one-off incident, it may be that your organisation has a wider problem with its 'culture', for example casually offensive jokes at others’ expense passed off as "banter".This kind of problem needs to be tackled seriously and without delay. Where a union is recognised, your union can play an important role here, making sure your employer fixes the problem. 

Your employer should have a zero tolerance approach at all times to all forms of harassment at work, whether by managers, colleagues, or third parties such as patients and customers.  

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.

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