Harassment under the Equality Act 2010



Harassment is defined in S26 of the Equalities Act 2010. Harassment is, “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”.

There are three types of harassment;

  • Unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the complainant, or violating the complainant’s dignity
  • Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature (sexual harassment)
  • Treating a person less favourably than another person because they have either submitted to, or did not submit to, sexual harassment or harassment related to sex or gender reassignment

The perception of the target of harassment is very important. Harassment can happen even if a person did not intend to harass, but the target felt they were being harassed.

Under the Equalities Act 2010, it is unlawful to harass an employee or worker for a reason to their protected characteristic. Harassment applies to all the protected characteristics except pregnancy, maternity, marriage and civil partnership.

You can complain about;

  • Harassment directed at you.
  • Harassment that creates an offensive environment for you, even if it is not directed at you at all.
  • Harassment because of perception and association (see direct discrimination).

Recent cases on harassment at work

In two unusual cases, the General Court of the European Union has ruled that the European Parliament and the European Investment Bank pay compensation to employees who suffered harassment.

In the Michela Curto v The European Parliament, a member of the European Parliament hired a parliamentary assistant. She subjected her to psychological harassment consisting of humiliating and scornful language, threats, insults and swearing. The General Court (overturning the Parliament’s internal decision) held that the degree of repetitive and systematic intentional behaviour could not be excused (as the European Parliament had done) on the grounds it was an inherently stressful atmosphere, and awarded €10,000.

In SQ v European Investment Bank, an administrator claimed that her career at the European Investment Bank had been damaged by bullying. The Bank awarded her compensation but imposed a confidentiality requirement. The General Court held it was wrong to impose a confidentiality requirement, as the public interest required such findings of harassment to be open. Further, imposing confidentiality went against the aim of preventing and penalising European Institutions which permitted harassment. A €10,000 award was made because of the confidentiality requirement.


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Best of the web

Equality and Human Rights Commission: Harassment

ACAS: Bullying and harassment

GOV.UK: Workplace bullying and harassment

Citizens advice: Harassment



This resource is published by Employee Rescue Limited. Please note that the information and any commentary on the law contained herein is provided free of charge for information purposes only. The information and commentary does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice. Employee Rescue accepts no responsibility for any loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material contained in this update. Further specialist advice should be taken before relying on the contents of this summary. No part of this summary may be used, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form without the prior permission of Employee Rescue Ltd.

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