Dealing with harassment at work

Being harassed at work is something nobody should ever have to go through. We all have a right to feel safe and supported while carrying out our work, and any violation of this by another staff member needs to be stopped immediately.

Here we look at what defines workplace harassment and the different forms it can take. Finally, we offer solutions as to what to do if you, a colleague or an employee is experiencing harassment on the job, and outline the help available from Citizens Advice and other support services.

Am I being harassed at work?

Sometimes the first – and most difficult – step to stopping harassment is admitting it exists. Hurtful gossip about you could be colleagues ‘having a laugh’. Staff posting negative comments about you on social media may be part of a ‘work hard, play hard’ culture. And aggressive comments aimed at you could be how teams ‘get results’.

But all these scenarios meet the Citizens Advice's definition of harassment: ‘Harassment is unwanted or unwelcome behaviour which is meant to or has the effect of either:

  • Violating your dignity, or
  • Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Citizens Advice offers a list of the types of discrimination and harassment at work. Basically, if colleagues make you feel emotionally or physically unwell, that’s harassment. And it must stop.

How to stop workplace harassment

If it feels safe, tell the person – or people – harassing you that you’re uncomfortable and ask them to stop the behaviour. Tell your human resources (HR) representative or line manager what’s going on too. If these individual are part of the problem, it's time to seek outside help.

Citizens Advice offers online resources plus phone and face-to-face appointments to help you stop harassment. The Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) can point you towards groups that support harassment victims. And the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) offers best practices for employees and employers, as well as impartial advice such as the legal steps to take.

Put it in writing

Whether you talk to your HR department or speak with an external agency, put your complaint in writing and save copies. Keep a diary of any incidents too: jot down who said – or did – what, as well as any witnesses. Note the time, date and location of the events. You can later use this info to raise a grievance with your boss or make a claim to an employment tribunal.

Legal protection

Thankfully, the law’s on your side. The 2010 Equality Act protects you from being harassed by your employer or colleagues. It covers unlawful discrimination related to age, disability, gender, race, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.

Sexual harassment at work is where unwanted behaviour is of a sexual nature. It could be ‘jokes’ about your sex life, unwelcome sexual advances (verbal or physical) or even assault. The Equality Act and courts can help you get compensation from a tribunal and get those who have harassed you dismissed.

How employers can stop harassment

If you’re an employer, your business should have a zero-tolerance attitude to harassment. You and your company could face legal action for harassment, even if you aren’t aware it's happening.

To protect your people and your business, lead by example and treat your workers with respect. Leave your office door open for staff to talk to you and empower your HR team to act on cases of harassment. Take complaints seriously and carry out disciplinary proceedings where necessary.