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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.

Harmonious workplaces

What you need to know

How we can help


Creating an harmonious workplace

A good and harmonious working environment is a workplace in which all persons are treated with dignity and respect and where no one is subjected to harassment. Not only is it good practice, it can have direct benefits for your organisation such as increasing productivity, efficiency and profitability.

The Equality Commission has, for many years, given advice to employers on issues around the wearing or display of emblems in the workplace, and the implications this can have for maintaining good and harmonious relations there. This is summarised in the Commission’s publication - Promoting a Good & Harmonious Working Environment - a guide for employers (pdf) - which contains advice on issues around emblems or expressions of identity in the workplace.

What is harassment?

Harassment is unwanted conduct related to the equality grounds which damages, or which is done with the aim of damaging, a person’s dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.

The “equality grounds” are as follows:

  • Sex
  • Pregnancy or maternity
  • Gender reassignment
  • Married or civil partnership status
  • Religious or similar philosophical belief
  • Political opinion
  • Racial group
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Age

Many forms of misbehaviour may amount to harassment; examples include:


  • physical conduct such as assaulting a person or making obscene gestures.
  • verbal conduct such as making racist, sexist, sectarian or homophobic remarks; making derogatory comments about a person’s age or disability; or singing songs of this nature.
  • visual or written material containing racist, sexist, sectarian, homophobic or other derogatory words or pictures (e.g. in posters, graffiti, letters or emails).
  • isolating a person (e.g. “sending them to Coventry”) or refusing to co-operate or help them at work or by excluding them from work-related social activities.
  • forcing a person to offer sexual favours or to take part in religious or political activities.

Harassment often occurs as a series of events, but an isolated “one-off” event may also amount to harassment.

Harassment will often occur where a person sets out to hurt or offend others, but it may also occur even where the person genuinely did not intend to cause that hurt or offence but did so inadvertently. For example, a person may believe that their comments or behaviour is “only banter”, but if it genuinely causes another person to be hurt, offended or distressed, then it may amount to harassment.



How can I promote a good and harmonious workplace?

As one of your key corporate responsibilities you can achieve this by developing practical procedures based on sound policies. For example, as an employer we recommend that you develop a written anti-harassment policy and procedure (word doc) and anti-harassment procedure (word doc), underpinned by a corporate equal opportunities statement, and a joint declaration of protection signed by both management and employees’ representatives.

Useful Downloads:

What action should I take?

We have drafted a model Harassment Policy and Equal Opportunities Policy (word docs) that you can use when writing your own policy and procedure. You may make appropriate amendments to these to suit your own particular needs.


As an employer, anti-discrimination laws make it your responsibility to protect staff from improper conduct by other employees that amounts to harassment. If you fail to do this you will be held responsible for that conduct. Simply telling the perpetrators to “cut it out” is not an adequate response. Employers must take proper steps to ensure that this does not occur, and where it does occur, it should be dealt with properly and promptly and the perpetrators disciplined.

An employer who can demonstrate that he or she has effectively implemented a harassment policy will have a considerable advantage when it comes to defending a complaint. It is, therefore, important that you take reasonably practicable steps to fulfil the commitments set out in your policy and procedure.

For further information download our guide for employers and employees:


As an employer, can I have a dress code for my employees?

Some employers have dress codes. Such dress codes may stipulate that employees must wear a uniform or must dress in a certain corporate style to communicate a particular image or ensure that customers can identify employees.

There may also be specific health, safety and hygiene requirements which impact on dress codes. For example, safety requirements might necessitate that employees wear helmets or safety glasses and hygiene requirements might ensure hair, including beards, be tied back or covered. Requirements relating to health, safety and hygiene should relate to the job and be reasonable in nature.

While some employers will have explicit dress codes, in other situations such codes may be implied. It is important that there is clarity for employees and applicants regarding an employer’s workplace policies and that decisions relating to employment matters are objective and justifiable.


What is an equal opportunities employer?

An equal opportunities employer is one who:

  • makes genuine efforts to comply with the spirit and letter of the equality laws
  • promotes a good and harmonious working environment in which employees will be treated with dignity and respect, and who
  • does not discriminate unlawfully against or harass any person on the grounds of:

 - Sex Pregnancy or maternity
 - Gender reassignment
 - Married or civil partnership status
 - Religious or similar philosophical belief
 - Political opinion
 - Racial group
 - Sexual orientation
 - Disability
 - Age


An equal opportunities employer also makes genuine efforts to ensure that its workplace and its employment policies and practices do not unreasonably exclude or disadvantage those job applicants and employees who have disabilities. To that end the employer complies with the duty to make reasonable adjustments that is imposed on employers in relation to such persons.

An equal opportunities employer also operates recruitment and selection procedures that are fair and are based on the principle of selecting the best person for the job. Read more about being an Equal Opportunities Employer>


What is an Equality Plan?

This provides employers with a practical and manageable framework for coordinating all aspects of equality work undertaken within your organisation. It specifically refers to employment practices and access to services. Read more about Equality Plans

How we can help

We believe that helping you promote and encourage good equal opportunities practice is as important as enforcing the equality law. Every year, the Commission helps hundreds of businesses and organisations comply with equality laws.

We recognise that employers' needs differ across sectors and businesses – so we tailor our services to meet employers’ varying needs.


We provide high quality training seminars and information sessions to employers on a wide range of equality issues.

These events provide advice and guidance on employers’ duties under current equality laws and on introducing best practice. We recommend that employers carefully consider their needs and choose the seminars and sessions which are of most benefit to them.


    Training sessions include:

   •  Introduction to understanding equality
   •  Equality training for line managers
   •  Recruiting fairly
   •  Harassment at work
   •  Pregnancy, maternity and flexible working
   •  Mental ill-health at work
   •  Promoting disability in the workplace 
   •  Reasonable steps defence
   •  How to complete an Article 55 Review
   •  Monitoring form workshops







We are flexible in terms of themes covered and can tailor courses to suit employers’ business needs. Further details are available on our employer training page or email - Tel: 02890 500600.


In-house training

On occasion, the Commission can provide in-house training for organisations.  Where we agree to such a request, we will normally deliver one session to key staff within the organisation and assist them to disseminate the training internally. For in-house training requests email or Tel: 028 90 500600.

Speakers for your event

If you are organising an equality related event, our staff can share their expertise to highlight relevant issues in equality law that relate to your business priorities. For further information, contact Paul Oakes  Tel: 028 90 500600.

Employer news ezine

To receive updates on our training seminars, events and employer equality networks sign up to receive our Employer & Service Providers' Newsletter using the subscribe button at the bottom of the page.


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