Workplace harassment examples

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Health Assured team

11 July 2019

Harassment is unlawful, unpleasant and has no place in any working environment.

The Equality Act 2010 defines it as, “unwanted conduct related to a relevant characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.

This guide on harassment explains how businesses can avoid it to promote a positive working environment.

Is harassment the same as bullying?

Harassment and bullying aren’t quite the same thing, though harassment can include bullying behaviour.

Unlike bullying, harassment is against the law. It refers to bad treatment related to a protected characteristic.

There’s no legal definition for bullying, but it’s seen as behaviour that’s malicious, intimidating, offensive, insulting, and causes emotional or physical harm to the recipient.

It’s similar to harassment, without the link to a protected characteristic.

Even though bullying isn’t illegal, this doesn’t mean it’s acceptable at work.  

This article looks at some bullying and harassment at work examples and offers advice on how to prevent it from happening in your business. 

Examples of harassment in the workplace

Types of workplace harassment include, but are not limited to:

  • Sexual harassment.
  • Physical harassment.
  • Psychological harassment.
  • Third-party harassment.

What is sexual harassment?

The term ‘sexual harassment’ refers to when a perpetrator acts in a sexual or romantic way towards an individual who does not want this attention.

Behaviour is also classed as sexual harassment if it involves making a threat (such as job loss) or promise (e.g. a promotion) based on the victim carrying out a request.

Other examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Innuendos directed at an individual.
  • Pressure for sexual activity.
  • Remarks about a person’s body or clothing.
  • Unwanted messages, letters, calls, emails or gifts.
  • Unwelcome requests for dates.
  • Inappropriate physical contact or comments.

What is Physical harassment?

This type of harassment also falls under ‘workplace violence’. It’s when physical attacks or threats take place within a workspace. Instances include:

  • Direct threats of intent to harm.
  • Destroying property.
  • Physical attacks (such as hitting, pushing or kicking).
  • Threatening behaviour.

What is psychological harassment?

Harassment of this nature negatively impacts the victim’s wellbeing. This can spiral into further problems and harm their physical health, social life and work ethic.

Here are some examples of psychological harassment:

  • Opposing or challenging everything an individual suggests.
  • Isolating someone.
  • Spreading rumours.
  • Belittling someone in the workplace.

Third-party harassment

Not all harassment comes from within the workplace. Perpetrators can be customers, suppliers or clients. When this happens, we call it third-party harassment.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to stop all types of bullying behaviour, regardless of who it comes from.

If one of your employees is being treated unfairly by a third-party individual, you have a duty of care to your staff member and must take appropriate steps to end the harassment.

Examples of workplace bullying

Bullying at work can take many forms, such as:

  • Cyberbullying: This happens online. It includes spreading gossip about the victim on social media or harassing them through instant messages and texts.
  • Using intimidation tactics.
  • Making critical remarks.
  • Making excessive demands that are impossible to meet.
  • Intruding on a colleague or employee’s personal life.
  • Threatening, shouting, swearing at or insulting an individual, either in public or private.

How to prevent workplace harassment and bullying

As well as causing distress to your workforce, bullying and harassment can lead to problems like absenteeism, high staff turnover and a decrease in productivity.

But what can you do to prevent it from happening?

Putting together a behaviour policy will help stop these problems. Your policy should include:

  • A commitment statement making it clear that harassment is against the law and not tolerated in your business.
  • Examples of harassment and other unacceptable behaviours.
  • A statement explaining how you’ll deal with this behaviour, including timescales for action.
  • The steps your organisation takes to prevent harassment and bullying.
  • Responsibilities of senior staff.
  • A commitment to confidentiality.
  • How you plan to implement, review and monitor the policy.

It’s also important to set a good example to your employees. Regardless of any policy, if staff see management treating others in a negative way, they’re more likely to follow suit.

You should also make sure your employees find you approachable and encourage them to be open if they do encounter any problems. The signs of bullying might slip past you if you’re busy—if your staff feel they can’t talk to you, you won’t be any the wiser.

Get in touch

The effects of harassment and bullying can be detrimental to an employee’s wellbeing. Having an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) means your team always has help at hand when they need emotional support. For more information, call us today on 0844 892 2493.

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