Know the law

        Sex Discrimination Act 1975

        The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999

        Race Relations Act 1976 and Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000

        Disability Discrimination Act 1995

        Human Rights Act 1998

        Health & Safety at Work Act 1974

        Protection from Harassment Act 1997

        Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994

        Malicious Communications Act 1998


Sex Discrimination Act 1975  (back to top) 

There are no specific legal provisions to deal with sexual harassment although the European Community has defined Sexual Harassment as "any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment"

However, for a number of years sexual harassment has been dealt with by the Courts and Employment Tribunals on the basis that they constitute sexual discrimination contrary to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. This states that it is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of their sex or marital status.  The basis on which a case is made is that the victim of the harassment has been subject to a detriment because of their sex. The complainant must show that the harassment was sexual in nature or was based on the individual’s gender and has caused them detriment. 

The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999  (back to top)

Harassment of an individual on the ground of gender reassignment - either by his or her employer or by fellow employees - will give rise to unlawful discrimination.  Such discrimination should be dealt with in the same serious manner as harassment is dealt with for any member of staff who is being discriminated against, for example, on the basis of their sex or race.  

Race Relations Act 1976 and Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000  (back to top) 

It is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, citizenship or ethnic origins. The complaint must show that the harassment created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, or interfered with the individual's work performance causing them a detriment.  Racial violence is a criminal offence and  proceedings in cases of racial abuse and harassment  may be brought under both criminal and civil law.  

The Race Relations (Amendment) Act means that public bodies have a duty to promote race equality, to tackle racial discrimination, to encourage equal opportunity and good race relations. 

Disability Discrimination Act 1995  (back to top) 

It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against current or prospective workers who have a disability or who have had a disability in the past.  

Harassment is not referred to as a separate issue under disability legislation. However, harassing a disabled person on account of disability will almost always amount to a detriment under the DDA. 

Human Rights Act 1998  (back to top) 

Inhuman and degrading treatment is prohibited under Article 3 of the Act.  Employers that do not try to prevent bullying and harassment outside the context of discrimination may be in breach of the Human Rights Act.

The Human Rights Act also has some bearing on certain harassment matters, including sexual orientation, in that it provides a right to respect for private and family life under Article 8.  

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974  (back to top) 

Employers have a duty of care, so far as is reasonably practical, to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees.  Harassment and bullying are recognised as serious health hazards because of the stress they can cause. 

If the employer fails to carry out these duties then they may be found to be negligent and therefore liable to prosecution.  

Protection from Harassment Act 1997  (back to top)  

This Act was passed following concern that stalking was not well dealt with under existing legislation, however it does not refer solely to stalking and covers harassment in a wider sense. The Act says that it is unlawful to cause harassment, alarm or distress by a course of conduct and states that’

'A person must not pursue a course of conduct
(a) which amounts to harassment of another, and
(b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.'  

If someone is harassed at their place of work they could decide to take action for damages using the Protection from Harassment Act rather than by going to an Employment Tribunal. An individual will need to establish the fact that harassment occurred and the damage it caused .

A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both.  The Police have powers to issue restraining orders under this legislation.  

Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994  (back to top)  

This defines a criminal offence of intentional harassment, which covers all forms of harassment, including sexual. A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, s/he:-

uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour; or

displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

Malicious Communications Act 1998  (back to top)

A particularly unpleasant form of harassment is that involving malicious communications either through the post, the telephone, Fax, by cyberstalking through the internet or, an increasing problem, by the use of Text or SMS messages sent to mobile phones.

Under this legislation it is an offence to send an indecent, offensive or threatening letter, electronic communication or other article to another person and under section 43 Telecommunications Act 1984 it is a similar offence to send a telephone message which is indecent offensive or threatening. Both offences are punishable with up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine. Because the Malicious Communications Offence is wider ranging than the Telecommunications offence it is more likely to be charged by the Police than is the Telecommunications Act offence.  

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