If you feel uncomfortable in the workplace because your employer or a work colleague intentionally creates a bad atmosphere by intimidating, humiliating or offending you, you could be entitled to file a harassment in the workplace claim. Being bullied in the workplace is against the law and is covered under the Equality Act 2010. If you can prove bullying and harassment takes place, you should contact a lawyer who specialises in harassment at work claims because if you are an employee in England, you could be entitled to seek compensation from your employer.
The Definition of Harassment in the Workplace
The definition of harassment at work could include the following:
- Being verbally abused by an employer or work colleague
- Being asked extremely personal questions which includes details about your religion or a disability
- Posters being put up that make you embarrassed and uncomfortable
- Having rude gestures aimed at you
- Someone making rude facial expressions at you
- Being told rude jokes which are sexual in nature
- Hearing comments that you find are offensive
Sometimes an employer or a work colleague might try to explain that any of the above is merely friendly banter, but it can still be deemed as being harassment at work providing the behaviour meets the criteria as defined in the Equality Act. It is also worth noting, that some serious cases of bullying and harassment in the workplace could also be seen as criminal which includes when you are threatened physically or assaulted sexually.
Discrimination Law Relating to Harassment
Under the law, any type of harassment has to be a behaviour towards you that you did not want and is referred to as being “unwanted conduct”. You would have to be sure that whoever was harassing you at work meant for you to feel uncomfortable in a certain way. You may have felt “that way” even if the person who was harassing you had no intention of doing so. This does not excuse the behaviour as defined by the Equality Act which is referred to a “purpose or effect”.
Should the person you felt was harassing you did not intend to make you feel uncomfortable, you must show that it was “reasonable” for you to “feel” that way about their conduct. You would have to show the “purpose or effect” of the person’s conduct violated your self-respect or that the conduct/behaviour created the following:
- An environment where you felt humiliated
- An environment where you felt offended
- An environment where you felt intimidated
- An environment that you felt was hostile towards you
- An environment that made you feel degraded
Where discrimination law is concerned, you would have to prove that one of the 3 sorts of harassment was evident which are as follows:
- An unwanted behaviour/conduct is related to one of the relevant “protected characteristics”, examples being race or sex
- An unwanted behaviour/conduct is sexual in nature
- Being treated unfairly due to rejecting or submitting to unwanted sexual advances or behaviours that relate to sex or gender reassignment which is referred to as being “treated less favourably”
It is worth noting that unwanted conduct or behaviour in the workplace does not necessarily have to be directed right at you. Should you overhear a work colleague making jokes of a racist nature or comments about you to each other, this is still deemed as being harassing conduct towards you as covered in Section 26 of the Equality Act 2010.
What Are Protected Characteristics?
Under the Equality Act, you are protected against harassment in the workplace that is directly linked to “protected characteristics”. Examples of protected characteristics being your religion or the fact you may be disabled.
If you feel you are being bullied or harassed in the workplace because you are pregnant or on maternity, you can file a suit against an employer because you are being harassed due to your sex/gender. Protected characteristics under the Equality Act are as follows:
- Gender reassignment
- Religious belief
- Sex – man or woman
- Sexual orientation
Could My Employer Be Held Liable for Harassment in the Workplace?
If you are a worker who is protected by the Equality Act 2010, you would be entitled to file legal action against your employer should you feel you are being harassed in the workplace. It is worth noting that a written contract of employment is not necessary for an employer to be held responsible if you are discriminated against in the workplace. You can file a harassment claim if you are employed as any of the following:
- An apprentice
- An employee
- Working under an “agreement” between you and the employer stating that you would carry out work for them for an agreed sum of money that the employer would pay you
- A former employee
You are protected under the Equality Act if you are a casual worker or you work zero hours. Some self-employed people and freelancers are also covered by the Equality Act. However, extra rules apply to people employed by one company but who work for another company, an example being agency workers. With this said, if it is written into your contract of employment that you can be sent to work for someone else, you may also be protected.
Your employer would be held responsible if you are harassed by a work colleague in the workplace or when you attend any of the following:
- Business trips
- Organised work-related events
- Social events that are organised by the business/company – an example being a Christmas party
An employer and the person who harasses you could both be deemed responsible for the unwanted behaviour/conduct because an employer is responsible for the actions of all the people who are in their employment. This is referred to in law as “vicarious” liability.
It is worth noting that you cannot hold an employer responsible if a customer or workers/staff from other companies harass you in the workplace, although your employer does have a duty to ensure that you are protected from discrimination should they be aware of the situation. With this said, if you are discriminated against by a someone like a consultant who has been given authority by your employer, you could hold your employer responsible for the consultants conduct which is referred in law as the consultant being an “agent”.
It is also worth noting that an employer would be held responsible if you are discriminated or harassed in the workplace whether they are aware of the situation or not providing they cannot show they did everything in their power to prevent this type of unwanted conduct from happening in the workplace.
Who Would I File a Harassment in the Workplace Claim Against?
Although both the work colleague and your employer could be held responsible for the unwanted behaviour that was shown towards you at work, it is better to file a harassment in the workplace claim against your employer rather than the work colleague who harassed you.
The reason being that by making a claim against a workmate can lead to further harassment and unsolicited contact, more especially if the person gets hold of your personal information like your home address and personal telephone number. By taking action out against your employer, you would be dealing with either a solicitor who represents your employer or a person in the HR department of the business.
However, if you feel that by taking action out against an employer might lead to the following, you should seek legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in bullying and harassment claims:
- Your employer may argue that they cannot be held responsible for the actions and conduct of a work colleague
- Your employer could close the business and stop trading with an end goal being to avoid any legal action being taken out against them
In some cases of harassment in the workplace, it could be that someone else in the company instructed a work colleague to act in this way. An example being an employer telling the person who hires staff not to take on anyone who is over the age of 50. In which case both the employer and the person who is paid to hire staff, would be held responsible which in law is referred to as “aiding discrimination”.
Examples of Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace
If you feel that you are being harassed or bullied in the workplace, but the unwanted behaviour is thought of as being acceptable, you should still seek legal advice on whether you could file a claim against your employer more especially if you feel that it is affecting your overall health and well-being both at work and in your personal life. Examples of harassment and bullying that you could be subjected to in the workplace include the following:
- Receiving direct threats about your job performance and security – this also includes hearing rumours or comments
- Not being taken into consideration for promotion or other working opportunities as well as being overlooked when it comes to bonuses or other financial awards
- Frequently being given the worst and most unpleasant tasks which can be thought of as pointless jobs
- Not being given credit for the good work that you do
- Your commissions are decreased or taken away for no good reason
- Constantly receiving unconstructive criticism
- Overzealous supervision of what you are doing in the workplace
- You are “set up” to fail at the job you are tasked to do
- Having important information about someone withheld from you
- You are deliberately ignored and excluded from meetings, events and left out of communications
- Having a work colleague use detrimental language about you in public or in front of a work colleague
Should any of the above apply to your work situation, you have the right to seek compensation for the mental anguish you have had to endure. This type of conduct and behaviour is illegal and should be reported to your employer or management. If nothing is done to redress the situation, you should seek legal advice from a firm of lawyers who specialise in bullying and harassment in the workplace claims.
How to Start a Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace Claim
If your employer or a work colleague is making your working life miserable because of bullying and harassment in the workplace, you should contact a solicitor straight away, even if you have made an official complaint to management. However, you would need to provide proof that your employer was negligent when it came to protecting you from being harassed while in their employment. The sort of evidence that would be required includes the following:
- A report detailing the psychological and psychiatric damage that you suffered because of being bullied and harassed at work
- A report on how the unwanted behaviour negatively impacted your personal life and relationships
- A report detailing that the mental anguish and physical damage you suffered would require long-term therapy
- A report detailing the fact that you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder – whether short or long-term
All of the above would be needed to validate a bullying and harassment at work claim. The more evidence you can provide that you suffered due to the unwanted conduct and behaviour of an employer or a work colleague, the stronger your case would be. If you had to put up with this type of situation in the workplace over a long period of time, keeping a diary of the events would strengthen your bullying and harassment at work claim even more.
You should then contact a firm of lawyers who specialise in this type of claim. The solicitor would typically offer you a no obligation, initial consultation which is normally free of charge. This allows a solicitor to assess your case and once they are satisfied that you have a strong bullying and harassment at work claim against an employer or a work colleague, they would offer to represent you on a No Win No Fee basis. This means that an expert in this type of work-related claim can begin working on your case without requesting that you pay a retainer for them to do so. You would not have to pay any ongoing fees as your claim against an employer progresses.
Should your employer deny responsibility for the unwanted conduct and behaviour in the workplace that you had to endure, the solicitor would investigate their claims before deciding whether to file a court case against them.
What Type of Compensation for Bullying and Harassment at Work Could I Claim For?
When it comes to claiming compensation for bullying and harassment at work, like all personal injury claims, you would be awarded “general damages” and “special damages” when your case is upheld whether it goes to court or your employer’s insurance provider chooses to settle your claim “out of court”.
General damages are awarded for the following:
- Your pain and suffering
- The mental anguish and trauma you had to endure
- Whether the effects of being bullied and harassed at work were such that they would affect the remainder of your life
Special damages are awarded in a successful bullying and harassment claim for the following:
- Your loss of earnings
- The loss of any future earnings
- Your medical expenses
- Any future medical expenses
- Travel expenses
- Care costs
Should I Sue My Employer for Bullying and Harassment at Work?
Bullying and harassment in the workplace is quite a common occurrence and although many people choose to turn a “blind eye” to this type of unwanted conduct and behaviour, it is against the law. As such, if you are bullied or harassed whether by a work colleague or an employer, you have the right to sue them and to be awarded compensation for the mental anguish you had to endure whether over a short period of time or more long-term.
Providing you have enough evidence that you suffered because of the unwanted behaviour and that your employer could be held responsible, you are entitled to file a bullying and harassment at work claim against them. Employers must by law make sure that you are protected from this type of behaviour when you are in their employment and if they fail to do so, they could be held responsible even if the bullying and harassment was done by a work colleague.
Employers must by law have liability insurance in place and the policy must be provided by a recognised insurance company. The policy must also meet the legal minimum requirement as laid out in the Employers Liability Compulsory Insurance Act 1969. Should an employer fail to have the necessary insurance in place, they would face hefty fines which would be issued by the enforcing authority. As such, when you file a bullying and harassment at work claim against your employer, it is their insurance provider who would deal with the case and they would pay the compensation in a successful claim.
What are My Workers Rights if I Am Bullied or Harassed in the Workplace?
Your worker’s rights are protected and this includes when you are bullied or harassed at work. In short, you have the right to seek compensation for the pain and mental anguish you had to endure due to the unwanted conduct and behaviour of an employer or work colleagues. Your rights include the following:
- That your job is secure even if you seek compensation from an employer for bullying and harassment in the workplace
- That you can file a bullying and harassment claim against your employer without fear of further discrimination
Is There a Time Limit to Filing a Bullying and Harassment Claim Against an Employer?
As with all personal injury claims, the statutory time limit that you have to file a bullying and harassment claim against your employer, is 3 years. However, if you were under the age of 18 when the bullying and harassment occurred at work, the 3 year statutory time limit starts from the date of your 18th birthday.
Can My Employer Fire Me For Filing a Bullying and Harassment at Work Claim?
You cannot be fired because you seek compensation from your employer for having been bullied and harassed while you were in their employment. Your employer would be acting illegally if they threaten you with the sack or redundancy if you choose to seek compensation for the mental anguish you had to suffer. If you feel threatened in any way, you should contact a solicitor immediately because you could be entitled to file further legal action against your employer.
What Are the Advantages of Working With a Solicitor on a Bullying and Harassment at Work Claim?
Because bullying and harassment at work claims are often complicated legal processes where proving responsibility can be challenging, it is far better to seek the help of a firm of lawyers who specialise in this type of complex claim. The earlier you consult a solicitor the better because it avoids falling foul of the statutory time limit associated with personal injury claims. Working with a solicitor offers many advantages, some of which are listed below:
- A firm of solicitors would have access to legal libraries which they can reference as needed when defending your bullying and harassment claim against a negligent employer
- Your case would be thoroughly assessed before a solicitor would offer to represent you on a No Win No Fee basis if they find that you have a strong bullying and harassment claim against your employer. This would be established during an initial, no obligation consultation for which you would not be charged
- A firm of lawyers would begin communicating with your employer and their insurance providers once you enter into a No Win No Fee agreement with them and would do so without you having to pay any money upfront
- Having a Conditional Fee Agreement in place means you would not have to pay the solicitor ongoing fees as your bullying and harassment claim progresses
- A solicitor would respect all pre-action protocols and the 3 year statutory time limit associated with this type of claim
- A solicitor who works on your behalf would ensure that you receive necessary therapies should these be required which would be provided by independent specialists
- A solicitor would ensure that all negotiations are carried out in a timely manner and that you receive the level of compensation you deserve should your claim be settled “out of court”
- If your employer denies responsibility, a solicitor would investigate their claims before advising on whether a lawsuit should be filed against your employer or the person who bullied and harassed you in the workplace
One of the great advantages of working with a No Win No Fee lawyer, is that the “success fee” you agreed to pay them for their legal representation in a bullying and harassment claim, would only be payable when you are awarded the compensation either by a judge or in an “out of court” settlement. Should you lose your case, there would be nothing to pay because you signed a CFA with the firm of solicitors who handled your bullying and harassment claim.
If you would like more information about the Equality Act, the link below provides a lot of essential reading on whether you are protected:
To find out more information about “protected characteristics”, please click on the link below: