Harassment In The Workplace

This article gives a brief overview of the current legal position in respect of harassment in the workplace and the basis on which harassment can amount to discriminatory treatment under the Equality Acts.

Under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015, sexual harassment and harassment in the workplace is prohibited.  

Harassment is defined as 

“Any form of unwanted conduct related which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.”

It must be related to any of the nine grounds under which discrimination in the workplace is outlawed, namely:

  • Gender;
  • Civil Status (single, married, separated, divorced, widowed or in a civil partnership or formerly in a civil partnership);
  • Family Status (parent of or responsible for a child under 18 years of age or parent of or main carer of a person with a disability who requires ongoing care);
  • Sexual Orientation (gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual);
  • Religion;
  • Age;
  • Race;
  • Disability; or
  • Membership of Traveling Community.

Sexual harassment is any form of unwanted verbal, non verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

Harassment and sexual harassment may be perpetrated by clients or anyone the employer could reasonably expect an employee to come into contact with in the course of their employment and may take many forms including gestures, spoken words, written words, emails, text messages, phone calls, pictures, displays of images etc.

Employers are required to take all reasonable measures to ensure that they prevent harassment and sexual harassment taking place in the workplace and in particular should have a clear policy and complaints procedure in place that has been communicated to all workers. Failure to prevent harassment in the workplace can lead to costly awards being made against employers and there are many examples available which will be covered in a future article.

A useful guide for employers on harassment and discrimination in the workplace is available on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission’s Website.