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Factsheet:

Harassment and bullying at work

Resource summary

This factsheet was last updated in January 2014.

What do we mean by harassment and bullying?

In the Equality Act 2010 harassment is defined as ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating and intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’.

Bullying is not specifically defined in law, but in their advice leaflet for employees1, Acas give the following definition: ’Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient'.

What does harassment and bullying include?

Harassment and bullying may be against one or more people and may involve single or repeated incidents ranging from extremes forms of intimidating behaviour, such as physical violence, to more subtle forms such as ignoring someone. It can often occur without witnesses. Examples include:

  • unwanted physical contact
  • unwelcome remarks about a person’s age, dress, appearance, race or marital status, jokes at personal expense, offensive language, gossip, slander, sectarian songs and letters
  • posters, graffiti, obscene gestures, flags, bunting and emblems
  • isolation or non-cooperation and exclusion from social activities
  • coercion for sexual favours
  • pressure to participate in political/religious groups
  • personal intrusion from pestering, spying and stalking
  • failure to safeguard confidential information
  • shouting and bawling
  • setting impossible deadlines
  • persistent unwarranted criticism
  • personal insults.

CIPD members can use our online interactive tool for further guidance on how to tackle bullying and harassment and promote a positive culture at work based on personal respect and dignity.

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  • What do we mean by harassment and bullying?
  • The legal position
  • Responsibilities of employers and employees
  • Dealing with complaints
  • CIPD viewpoint
  • Useful contacts
  • References
  • Further reading

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