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  • Mariel Irvine


A supervisor racially abuses a black bricklayer on a construction site. Another bricklayer, who is not black, is offended by the abuse. That bricklayer may bring a claim for harassment under the Equality Act 2010, since the supervisor has created a hostile and offensive environment for him or her.

Harassment and bullying are issues under the spotlight. Where they occur at work, the Employment Tribunal may be the appropriate forum for a claim, so long as the behaviour is discriminatory in some way. Claims in the civil courts for damages under the Protection from Harassment Act 1998 can be more difficult to win because the definition of harassment is narrower, and the courts have ruled that much objectionable behaviour does not fall within it.

Harassment under the Equality Act 2010

Broadly, under section 26 of the Equality Act 2010, person A harasses another person B when he or she behaves in a way that is unwanted and has the purpose or effect of

  1. violating B’s dignity or

  2. creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.

The behaviour must also be discriminatory. In other words it must be related to a protected characteristic such as sex, race, age, disability or religion.

There is one exception to the discriminatory requirement, and that is where the behaviour is of a sexual nature. So long as the sexual conduct has the purpose or effect described at items 1 or 2 above, it will amount to harassment under the Act. The reality is that some sexual conduct may also amount to sexual discrimination.


B may bring proceedings against A and/or A’s employer. The employer will have a good defence if they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent A from behaving in this way. Consequently, it may be important for A’s employer to show that they have a Bullying and Harassment Policy in place, together with an effective training programme for managers in how to implement the policy.


If B is successful, he or she is likely to recover some compensation for injury to feelings.

There are three broad bands of compensation:-

  • £18,000 to £30,000 for the most serious cases: eg a lengthy campaign of harassment

  • £6,000 to £18,000 for serious cases that do not merit the top band

  • Up to to £6,000 for less serious cases: eg isolated or one off acts of harassment.

See Vento v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police (No 2) [2003] IRLR 102

Time limit for issuing proceedings

Three months from the bullying and harassment complained about.

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