Appendix B: Definitions of bullying and harassment

Bullying and harassment are defined by ACAS as the following:

  • Bullying is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.
  • Harassment is unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected 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.

Examples of harassing or bullying behaviour could include:

  • spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone (particularly on the grounds of age, race, sex, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation and religion or belief)
  • unwelcome sexual advances – stalking, touching, standing too close, display of offensive materials, asking for sexual favours/coercion
  • copying information which is critical about someone to others who do not need to know
  • racist jokes and ridiculing relating to cultural differences
  • ridiculing or demeaning someone – picking on them or setting them up to fail
  • abuse or harassment relating to an individual’s disability, sexual orientation (e.g. homophobia/biphobia) or relating to gender reassignment/identity (e.g. transphobia), which under recent legislation changes are now considered hate crimes.
  • email, text or online abuse
  • exclusion or victimisation
  • inciting others to harass
  • overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position
  • making threats or comments about job security without foundation
  • deliberately undermining a competent employee/student by overloading and constant criticism
  • preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion/progression or training opportunities
  • violence
  • shouting and sarcasm
  • constant destructive criticism
  • ignoring, patronising and ostracising
  • setting a person up for failure with impossible workloads and deadlines.

Bullying or harassment do not need to take place face to face, but can happen within written correspondence, on the telephone and through visual images.

Types of discrimination

Since the implementation of the Equality Act 2010, the types of discrimination have been extended from direct, indirect, harassment and victimisation to also include associative and perceived discrimination. Definitions are supplied below:

  • Direct discrimination - Direct discrimination occurs where someone is treated less favourably directly because of:
    • a protected characteristic they possess – this is ordinary direct discrimination; and/or
    • a protected characteristic of someone they are associated with, such as a friend, family member or colleague – this is direct discrimination by association (see below); and/or
    • a protected characteristic they are thought to have, regardless of whether this perception by others is actually correct or not – this is direct discrimination by perception (see below).

Direct discrimination in all its forms could involve a decision not to employ someone, to dismiss them, withhold promotion or training, offer poorer terms and conditions or deny contractual benefits because of a protected characteristic.

  • Indirect discrimination - This type of discrimination is usually less obvious than direct discrimination and can often be unintended. In law, it is where a provision, criterion or practice is applied equally to a group of employees/job applicants, but has (or will have) the effect of putting those who share a certain protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage when compared to others without the characteristic in the group, and the employer is unable to justify it.
  • Harassment is defined as ‘unwanted conduct’ and must be related to a relevant protected characteristic or be ‘of a sexual nature‘. It must also have the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.
  •  Victimisation is when an employee suffers what the law terms a ‘detriment’ - something that causes disadvantage, damage, harm or loss - because of:
    • making an allegation of discrimination, and/or
    • supporting a complaint of discrimination, and/or
    • giving evidence relating to a complaint about discrimination, and/or
    • raising a grievance concerning equality or discrimination, and/or
    • doing anything else for the purposes of (or in connection with) the Equality Act 2010

Victimisation may also occur because an employee is suspected of doing one or more of these things.

  • Associative discrimination – This is direct discrimination and happens where someone is treated less favourably because they associate with another person who possesses a protected characteristic.
  • Perceived discrimination – This is direct discrimination and happens where someone is treated less favourably because they are perceived to have a particular protected characteristic. So it still applies even if that person does not have the protected characteristic.