Harassment In Work

There is a specific definition of harassment in work, found under the Equality Act 2010. It is essential to understand what amounts to harassment to identify unlawful conduct.harassment in work

There are also three types of harassment:

  • harassment related to a ‘relevant protected characteristic’;
  • sexual harassment; and
  • less favourable treatment of a worker because they submit to, or reject, sexual harassment or harassment related to sex or gender reassignment. 

Harassment is also a claim that does not require 2 years of service. 

For the purposes of this article, we will be addressing the first type of harassment which is harassment related to a ‘relevant protected characteristic’.

What Is Harassment In Work

Harassment is defined in the Equality Act 2010 s26.1. This type of harassment occurs when a person engages in unwanted conduct which is related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or the effect of:

  • violating the worker’s dignity; or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that worker.


 A boss tells a female employee that she will never be able to carry out the heavy lifting because of her sex. The comment is unwanted and is in relation to a protected characteristic.

This is a crucial part of this type of harassment in an employment law context. The harassment has to be in relation to a protected characteristic:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity 
  • Race
  • Religion or Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

The word ‘unwanted’ means essentially the same as ‘unwelcome’ or ‘uninvited’. ‘Unwanted’ does not mean that an express objection must be made to the conduct before it is deemed to be unwanted. A serious one-off incident can also amount to harassment.

“Related to”

Unwanted conduct ‘related to’ a protected characteristic has a very broad meaning in that it does not have to be because of the protected characteristic. It can occur in many other ways.


If a worker with a hearing impairment is verbally abused because he wears a hearing aid, this could amount to harassment related to disability.

It can also take place:

  • When there is general abusive behaviour to other workers but, in relation to a particular worker, the form of the unwanted conduct is determined by that worker’s protected characteristic.
  • Where there is any connection with a protected characteristic, for example if someone works with someone who has a protected characteristic.
  • Where the worker may be wrongly perceived as having a protected characteristic.
  • Where the unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic is not directed at the particular worker but at another person or no one in particular.
  • Where the unwanted conduct is related to the protected characteristic, but does not take place because of the protected characteristic.

Harassment In Work- Compensation

If there has been harassment in work, the compensation available is the same as other discrimination claims.

When a Claimant succeeds in harassment claim, an employment tribunal may do some, or all of the following:

  • Order the Respondent to pay compensation.
  • Make an appropriate recommendation aimed at reducing the adverse effect of the victimisation on both the Claimant and the wider workforce.
  • Make a declaration as to the rights of the Claimant and the Respondent in relation to the matters to which the proceedings relate.

The most common “remedies” available for harassment claims are:

Financial Loss – This covers the financial loss caused by the harassment.

Injury to Feelings – An award for injury to feelings is to compensate and not to punish, and is designed to address the anger, distress, and upset caused by the harassment. The award for injury to feelings is separated into three bands:

Bands for Injury to Feelings:

Band Vento (December 2002) Da’Bell (September 2009) Updated – Claim brought after 06 April 2022
Top band for the most serious cases, such as where there has been a lengthy campaign of harassment. wards can exceed this only in the most exceptional cases. £15,000 – £25,000 £18,000 – £30,000 £29,600 to £49,300
Middle band for serious cases which do not merit an award in the highest band. £5,000 – £15,000 £6,000 – £18,000 £9,900 to £29,600
Bottom band for less serious cases, such as a one-off incident or an isolated event. £500 – £5,000 £600 – £6,000 £990 – £9,900

Personal Injury – This can form part of your claim if an act of harassment caused personal injury. There is clearly an overlap with injury to feelings.

The Tribunal can also make an award for the following, but these are rare:

Aggravated damages – Aggravated damages are awarded in the most serious cases where the behaviour of the Respondent has aggravated the Claimant’s injury to feelings.

Exemplary or “punitive” damages – Such an award is rare and can be awarded to punish the Respondent, rather than compensate the Claimant. This award is available in limited cases where the compensation itself is an insufficient punishment and the Respondent’s conduct is either:

  1. Oppressive, arbitrary or unconstitutional action by servants of the government.
  2. Calculated to make a profit which could exceed the compensation otherwise payable to the Claimant.

Usually, unless there is also some financial loss that can be attributed to the harassment, the usual award is for injury to feelings only.

Getting Help

Identifying harassment can be complex and getting advice early can be extremely useful. If you wait too long, then you may miss your chance to take action and/or obtain compensation. There are short time limits for harassment claims.

If you feel you have been harassed at work, you may want to know what else you can do, where you stand and what your options are. We know that navigating this alone can be extremely stressful and we are well-versed in dealing with these types of sensitive matters. 

Get In Touch

Please call us on 0207 118 9218 or complete a Free Online Enquiry and we will be in touch.