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:
Pregnancy or maternity
Married or civil partnership status
Religious or similar philosophical belief
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.
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)
, underpinned by a corporate equal opportunities statement, and a joint declaration of protection signed by both management and employees’ representatives.
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.
We have drafted a model harassment policy and procedure (Word doc) and equal opportunities policy (pdf) 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: Promoting a good and harmonious workplace (pdf)
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:
- Pregnancy or maternity
- Gender reassignment
- Married or civil partnership status
- Religious or similar philosophical belief
- Political opinion
- Racial group
- Sexual orientation
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
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