Harassment involves unwanted conduct relating to a protected characteristic (with the exception of marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity) which has the purpose or effect of violating the employee’s dignity or creating an offensive, intimidating or hostile environment for them. Examples of harassment include bullying, seeking sexual favours, pestering a senior employee to retire and displaying offensive pictures in the workplace. Harassment also occurs where the perpetrators wrongly believe that the employee has a protected characteristic such as harassing the employee because the employee is believed to be of a certain religion when they are not and it can also happen when the employee associates with a person who has a protected characteristic. For example, the manager of a company harassing the employee because of the employee’s association with a gay man.
In addition, employers will also be liable for third-party harassment where a third party harasses the employee in the course of the employee’s employment and the employer has failed to take such steps as would have been reasonably practicable to prevent the third party from doing so and the employer also knew that the employee had been harassed in the course of their employment on at least two other occasions by a third party (although the alleged harassment did not need to be carried out by the same person).
For harassment claims, the perception of the employee concerned is the relevant consideration and not the motivation of the perpetrators. Harassment can never be justified but must always be related to a protected characteristic even if it is one the employee affected does not have.