Harassment and bullying occurs all too frequently within workplaces. This behaviour can be threatening, offensive and malicious and comes in lots of different forms.

Many state they are being “bullied” or “harassed” however, despite their similarities, in terms of definition in law, the two are very different. Under the Equality Act 2010, “harassment” has quite a specific meaning – whilst “bullying” does not feature as a legal term, at all.

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Harassment refers to bad treatment related to 7 protected characteristics, including:
• Age
• Sex
• Disability
• Race
• Gender
• Religion
• Sexual orientation.

This is why we often hear about sexual harassment or racial harassment in the news. More specifically, it is legally defined as “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.” Unwanted behaviour can include threats, offensive comments or emails, jokes or teasing.

It also covers behaviour that individuals find offensive, even if it’s not directed at them, and whether or not they have the relevant protected characteristic(s) themselves. For example, a comment made to one person because of their race, could be offensive or intimidating to another employee who overheard that comment, even if the person that the comment was directed at does not feel that way.


Bullying also comes in many forms, and can be offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, denigrates or injures the recipient (emotionally or physically) – but it doesn’t have a legal definition.

Nevertheless, the absence of a legal definition of “bullying” does not mean that people being bullied – rather than harassed – have no protection.

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ towards their employees and in line with this, they must ensure that their employees are not being made to work in an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.

If you are being bullied or facing harassment at work you need to speak to one of our specialist solicitors. Contact our expert employment law team on 0161 930 5151, e-mail employmentteam@gorvins.com

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