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Bullying and Harassment - What is Bullying and Harassment?

Bullying and harassment of any kind should not be tolerated by anyone in the workplace.

Some Examples of bullying/harassing behaviour can include:

  • Spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone by word or behaviour (particularly on the grounds of race, sex, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief)

  • Copying memos that are critical about someone to others who do not need to know ridiculing or demeaning someone - picking on them or setting them up to fail, exclusion or victimisation

  • Overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position

  • Unwelcome sexual advances - touching, standing too close, the display of offensive materials

  • Making threats or comments about job security without foundation

  • Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism

  • preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities.


Bullying can be either one individual bullying another or can involve groups of people. Sometimes it can be by someone in a position of authority such as a manager or supervisor.


Harassment can be unwanted behaviour that violates someone's dignity or creates an:

  • Intimidating environment
  • Hostile environment
  • Degrading environment
  • Humiliating environment
  • Offensive environment

This can be applied to:

  • Sexual orientation
    Note: Orientation is defined as:
    same sex: lesbian/gay
    opposite sex:heterosexual, both sexes, bisexual
  • Religion
    • Belief
    • Race
    • Ethnic
    • National origin

Harassment can be related to:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Personal characteristic of the individual

It may be persistent or an isolated incident. The key to this is that the actions or comments are viewed as demeaning and unacceptable to the recipient.

Harassment can also have a specific meaning under certain laws if for instance it is related to sex, race or disability and could be be unlawful discrimination.

From December 2003 the law also gives protection against harassment relating to religion or belief and sexual orientation..

Bullying and harassment are not necessarily face to face. They may also occur in written communications, electronic (e)mail, phone, and automatic supervision methods such as computer recording of downtime from work or the number of calls handled if these are not applied to all workers.

The legal side:

Your employer is responsible for preventing bullying and harassing behaviour. It is in their interests to make it clear to everyone that such behaviour will not be tolerated

What can you do?

It is not possible to make a direct complaint to an employment tribunal about bullying. However, employees might be able to bring complaints under laws covering discrimination and harassment. For example:

  • Sex: The Sex Discrimination Act gives protection against discrimination and victimisation on the grounds of sex, marriage or because someone intends to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone gender reassignment

  • Race: the Race Relations Act 1976 gives protection against discrimination and victimisation on the grounds of colour or nationality. The regulations that amended the Act (Race Regulations 2003) also give a stand alone right to protection from harassment on the grounds of race and ethnic or national origi

  • Disability: the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 gives protection against discrimination and victimisation

  • Sexual orientation: the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 give protection against discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation (orientation is defined as 'same sex' - lesbian/gay - 'opposite sex' - heterosexual - and 'both sexes' - bisexual)

  • Religion or belief: the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 give protection against discrimination and harassment on the grounds of religion or belief.

Further Information:

Bullying help sites can also be found on the Internet - search under 'Workplace Bullying'.

Useful contacts:

For further help and advice on Sexual harassment visit Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Bully OnLine:

Bully Online www.bullyonline.org

Equality and Human Rights Commission:

Working to eliminate sex discrimination and tackling racial discrimination and promoting racial equality
England - 0845 604 6610
Scotland - 0845 604 5510

Wales - 0845 604 8810

Equal Opportunities Commission

Suggested further reading:

Bully in Sight by Tim Field, published by Success Unlimited in 1996.

Harassment, bullying and violence at work by Angela Ishmael with Bunmi Alemoru, published by The Industrial Society in 1999.


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