What is harassment and victimisation?

Advice and Guidance

What is on this page?



Who is this page for?

  • employers
  • employees
  • individuals using a service
  • any organisation using a service
  • public sector

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • Great Britain flag icon

      Great Britain


Harassment is unwanted behaviour that you find offensive, where the other person’s behaviour is because:

  • you have a protected characteristic
  • there is any connection with a protected characteristic (for example, you are treated as though you have a particular characteristic, even if the other person knows this isn’t true)

Unwanted behaviour could include:

  • spoken or written abuse
  • offensive emails
  • tweets or comments on websites and social media
  • images and graffiti
  • physical gestures
  • facial expressions
  • banter that is offensive to you

Anything that is unwelcome to you is unwanted. You don’t need to have previously objected to it.

The unwanted behaviour must have the purpose or effect of violating your dignity, or creating a degrading, humiliating, hostile, intimidating or offensive environment for you.

To be unlawful, the treatment must have happened in one of the situations that are covered by the Equality Act. For example, in the workplace or when you are receiving goods or services.


This is treating someone badly because they have done a ‘protected act’, or because an employer, service provider or other organisation believes that you have done or are going to do a protected act. The reason for the treatment does not need to be linked to a protected characteristic.

A protected act is:

  • making a claim or complaint of discrimination (under the Equality Act)
  • helping someone else to make a claim by giving evidence or information
  • making an allegation that you or someone else has breached the Equality Act
  • doing anything else in connection with the Equality Act

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019

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.


Opening hours:

9am to 7pm Monday to Friday
10am to 2pm Saturday
closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays

Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.