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Bullying and Harassment at Work Law

This guide explains the common signs of workplace bullying and harassment - with examples. Find out what it is and what action workers can take according to the law.

WORKPLACE BULLYING: Causing harassment at work is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

In the workplace, bullying and harassment is the type of behaviour that causes offence or intimidation. Typical examples of bullying or harassing behaviour would include:

  • Denying specialist training or opportunities for promotion.
  • Picking on someone (e.g. hazing), undermining, or degrading them on a regular basis.
  • Spreading malicious or humiliating rumours, including using (or provoking) ‘unreasonable’ or unfair treatment.

There are several different ways that bullying and harassment in the workplace can happen. It is often a face-to-face encounter. But, the intimidation or abuse can also occur by email, by letter, or on the telephone.

Workplace Bullying and Harassment Laws

In fact, bullying per se is not against the law in the United Kingdom. But, workplace harassment is an unlawful act. As a rule, it takes place when an unwanted behaviour relates to:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex, gender (including gender reassignment), or sexual orientation

Taking Action by Bullied or Harassed Employees

Often, there are ‘informal’ ways for employees to solve a workplace dispute – in the first instance. If that proves to be unsuccessful, you should discuss the matter with either:

  • The human resources department (HR).
  • Your workplace manager.
  • A trade union representative (if you have one).

If that fails, an employee may be able to make a formal complaint using their employer’s grievance procedure. In most cases this action would solve the issue. But, taking legal action, through an employment tribunal, may be the last resort if you are continually bullied or harassed.

Note: Acas produced a guidance leaflet titled ‘Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for employees’ that you can download. Employees can also contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service helpline. Call Acas for free and impartial advice:

Acas Helpline
Telephone: 0300 123 1100
Textphone: 18001 0300 123 1100
Monday to Friday: 8am to 6pm
Information on phone call charges.

Responsibilities of Employers

Preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace is an employer responsibility. UK employment laws make employers liable for any harassment suffered by their employees.

Prevention and help is available for all employers on anti-bullying and harassment policies. Acas produce a free booklet especially for employers and managers.

You can download the ‘Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers’. It includes expert advice for setting up a workplace harassment policy. The information also covers recognising and dealing with bullying and harassment at work.

Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace United Kingdom