Harassment by fellow workers

An employer can also be held legally responsible for harassment by people who work for them.

If the person who harasses you works for your employer, equality law says that the employer will not be held legally responsible if they can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the worker harassing someone.

If the person who harasses you is your employer’s agent, the employer will not be held legally responsible if they can show that their agent exceeded the scope of their authority.

There is more information about when an employer is legally responsible for what other people do.

What can your employer do to prevent harassment?

Equality law does not specify exactly what ‘reasonable steps’ are, but these steps are likely to help. They are good practice, and not a legal requirement.

Your employer could:

  • Put in place a harassment policy (sometimes this will be included in a wider equality policy).
  • Involve their staff in the policy-making process, including agreeing the policy with a trade union and/or other worker representatives if appropriate.
  • Make sure all workers are aware of the policy’s existence and of their responsibilities to make it work, for example, by providing them with training.
  • Make sure that any visitors, clients, suppliers or customers who come into contact with workers or job applicants are also aware of the policy and behave in line with it, for example, using signs in a reception area. 
  • Use their policy to explain the steps being taken to prevent harassment.
  • What a harassment policy should do:
    • Describe the protected characteristics and clearly state that any harassment of workers or job applicants related to any of these characteristics will not be tolerated.
    • Make it clear that harassment will be treated as a disciplinary offence.
    • Clearly explain how a worker can make a complaint, informally and formally.
    • Make it clear that complaints of harassment will be dealt with within a reasonable time, treated seriously and confidentially, and that someone complaining will be protected from victimisation.
    • Describe what support is available to a worker if they think they are being harassed, for example, counselling or a worker assistance programme.
    • Describe any training/other resources available for workers to help them spot and stop harassment.
    • Describe how the policy will be implemented, reviewed and monitored.
    • Build in a review process; this is particularly important if someone has complained of harassment, as an employer will need to make sure that their policy was effective in dealing with the incident.

How can your employer deal with complaints of harassment?

These suggestions are good practice, not a legal requirement.

But your employer should have a process for dealing with the situation if one of the workers says they have been harassed.

Things for your employer to consider are how they can:

  • Handle a complaint of harassment with sensitivity and with respect for everyone’s rights.
  • Make sure they do not dismiss what is said to have happened as the person complaining being ‘oversensitive’ without investigating exactly what has gone on and assessing whether it comes within the equality law definition of harassment.
  • Try not to require someone complaining of harassment to repeatedly recount the events complained of where this is unnecessary, as this may be difficult and upsetting for them.
  • If the worker who says they have been harassed wants to make an anonymous complaint (so that the person they are complaining about will not know who has complained) then the employer could:
  • Try to maintain their confidentiality while the employer finds out what has happened and during any formal disciplinary proceedings it is decided are necessary.
  • Remember though that the person who is said to have harassed the worker is entitled to know the details of what they are said to have done so they can defend themselves.
  • Try to make sure that workers not involved do not find out about what has happened.

There is more general information about what to do if you believe you've been discriminated against. This includes having been harassed.

More information

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