Harassment at work is unlawful under s.26 of the Equality Act 2010. There are 3 types of harassment under s.26 – ‘general’ harassment, sexual harassment, and non-submission harassment. The first of these – ‘general’ harassment – will be covered in this article.


General harassment is defined as ‘unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the complainant or of violating their dignity. Unwanted conduct has to be conducted that was ‘unwelcome’ or ‘uninvited’. It is conduct not desired by the worker. In order to be harassed the unwanted conduct has to relate to a protected characteristic of the worker – for example offensive comments relating to a worker’s nationality. The only protected characteristics that are excluded from a harassment claim are pregnancy and maternity, and marriage and civil partnership. The unwanted conduct related to the protected characteristic of the worker further has to have the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the complainant or of violating their dignity. This test is therefore both subjective and objective – the worker may perceive that they are being harassed but the ‘reasonable man’ test also applies so as to prevent unusually sensitive complainants from succeeding solely on the basis of their perception of harassment. All the circumstances of the case are also taken into account.

Under s.40 of the Equality Act 2010 your employer also has a duty imposed upon them to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent a worker being harassed if they have been made aware of the harassment of the worker by a 3rd party on at least two occasions previously. If you have therefore been subjected to harassment that your employer is aware of this is therefore another line of attack that can be pursued.

Proving harassment

In order to succeed in a claim for harassment in the Employment Tribunal you must show the Employment Tribunal that on the balance of probabilities that such treatment has occurred. To achieve this you can use as evidence (among other things) treatment that you have been subjected to, remarks made to you, and wholly unreasonable conduct on your employer’s behalf.

Remedies and compensation

If you were to be successful in a harassment complaint to the Employment Tribunal then depending on the circumstances you may be awarded a sum in compensation (including compensation for injury to your feelings). The Tribunal can also make a declaration of the rights of both parties and make an appropriate recommendation (such as reinstatement, if applicable, or an apology).


You have a 3 month period in which to submit a complaint (via an ET1 form) to the Employment Tribunal, dating from the last incident of harassment that you were subjected to. These time restrictions are very strict so make sure that you submit your claim within time!



The Direct 2 Lawyers Employment Team post daily on interesting employment law cases, Employment Tribunal judgments and Employment Appeal Tribunal judgments. All of the Employment Team posts are written by qualified specialist employment lawyers

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