What is harassment?

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • England

      England

    • |
    • Scotland

      Scotland

    • |
    • Wales

      Wales

The three types of harassment

There are three types of harassment which are unlawful under the Equality Act:

  • Harassment related to a relevant protected characteristic.
  • Sexual harassment.
  • Less favourable treatment of a student because they submit to or reject sexual harassment or harassment related to sex.

Pregnancy and maternity is not protected directly under the harassment provisions, however, unwanted behaviour (as described below) will amount to harassment related to sex.

Harassment occurs when you engage in unwanted behaviour which is related to a relevant protected characteristic and which has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating a student’s dignity or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the student.
  • The word ‘unwanted’ means ‘unwelcome’ or ‘uninvited’. It is not necessary for the student to say that they object to the behaviour for it to be unwanted.

In this context ‘related to’ has a broad meaning and includes situations where the student who is on the receiving end of the unwanted behaviour does not have the protected characteristic himself or herself, provided there is a connection between the behaviour and a protected characteristic. This would also include situations where the student is associated with someone who has a protected characteristic or is wrongly perceived as having a particular protected characteristic.

For example:

A college tutor makes racist remarks about the local Gypsy and Traveller site stating that it should be shut down as the ‘gypos’ were causing problems in the community. A pupil from a Traveller background is in the class and finds the tutor’s behaviour degrading and offensive. This would be harassment related to the protected characteristic of race.

Sexual harassment occurs when you engage in unwanted behaviour which is of a sexual nature and which has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating a student’s dignity or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the student.

‘Of a sexual nature’ can cover verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct including unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriate touching, forms of sexual assault, sexual jokes, displaying pornographic photographs or drawings, or sending emails with material of a sexual nature.

It is unlawful to treat a student less favourably because they either submit to, or reject, sexual harassment or harassment related to sex or gender reassignment.

For Example:

Following a tutorial, a tutor walks up to a female student who has stayed behind to speak to him, puts his hands on her waist and tells her she is ‘very attractive’. The student pushes the tutor away and tells him he is behaving in an inappropriate manner. As a result, the tutor subsequently marks down her exam paper. This is less favourable treatment of the pupil because she has rejected sexual harassment.

In the same example, although the pupil is offended by the tutor’s behaviour, she freezes and doesn’t push him away. Another tutor passes by and sees this. The second tutor, who is normally friendly to the pupil, subsequently tells her he has lost respect for her and does not let her contribute to discussions during tutorials because she submitted to the first tutor’s conduct. This is less favourable of the pupil because she submitted to sexual harassment.

Last updated: 14 Nov 2018

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Phone: 0808 800 0082
Textphone: 0808 800 0084

You can email using the contact form on the EASS website.

Also available through the website are BSL interpretation, web chat services and a contact us form.

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Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.