Harassment is both a civil and criminal offence and falls under various legislation.
Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, harassment will occur where the behaviour causes alarm or distress. Individuals must not pursue a course of conduct that:
To qualify as harassment there has to have been a course of conduct against the victim, which means:
To succeed, there needs to be evidence of:
It is possible to harass an individual by proxy by harassing those connected to them knowing this will affect the individual as well as those that are being targeted by the conduct. This can be done by harassing the person’s:
Cases of harassment that stem from racial or religious hatred are covered by the Crime and Disorders Act 1998. The Act states that the harassment needs to have been racially or religiously aggravated.
Where someone needs protection from ongoing harassment, it is possible under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 for the court to make a restraining order against a defendant, even where they have been acquitted.
Harassment is regarded as unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 if it relates to a protected characteristic, which is:
Marriage and civil partnership as well as pregnancy and maternity do not qualify as protected characteristics in relation to harassment.
Harassment in this context is 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.” It is therefore irrelevant that the person did not mean to offend or intimidate the other person where the effect of the actions has this effect.
The court will have to determine whether it was reasonable for the conduct to have the effect required to qualify for harassment. In deciding whether the conduct has the above effect, the court will look at the following factors:
In this case, there does not need to be a course of conduct and a one off incident is enough qualify as harassment.
Harassment can be regarded as sexual where the unwanted conduct or behaviour is sexual in nature. The parties can be of the same sex or opposite sex. It is also possible for a person to sexually harass someone where the unwanted sexual conduct is related to gender reassignment or sex. The person does not need to have previously complained about the conduct for it to be unwanted. Sexual harassment includes behaviour such as:
The effect of the harassment is subjective and it does not matter if there was no intention to create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person- what matters is how they viewed it.
Under the Equality Act 2010, an employer can be held liable for harassment in relation to one employee by another. In order to protect themselves, the employer needs to make sure that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent employees from harassing their colleagues.
Workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, is something that has been widely covered in the news in recent years and more employees are raising issues they have encountered in the workplace.
There are three main defences in relation to an allegation of harassment:
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