What is Bullying and Harassment at work?

What is Harassment in the Workplace?

The Oxford dictionary defines ‘harassment’ as, ‘aggressive pressure or intimidation’. When issues of harassment in the workplace are explored it quickly becomes apparent that this definition is too simplistic in its description.

Different Definitions of Bullying and Harassment at Work

If you were to speak to colleagues and friends, it is likely that this basic definition of harassment is how many people understand it. Harassment involves some form of ‘aggression’. Harassment is visible and obvious.

However, harassment can be much more subtle than its dictionary definition. The official Government definition of harassment is, ‘behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended’[1]. Notably, this definition does not include the term ‘aggressive’. Harassment in the workplace can take many forms, many of them not always easy to immediately identify. They may have had malicious and untruthful rumours spread about them. Or perhaps they frequently feel undermined and generally treated unfairly in comparison to others in the same working environment.

Equality Act 2010

Under the Equality Act 2010, in the UK harassment is unwanted conduct. It can be related to one of the following:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • gender
  • sexual orientation

Harassment is much like bullying. Signs of harassment may include an individual feeling intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. They may feel embarrassed by the situation and feel powerless to do anything about it as it may be a colleague, Manager or Senior Manager carrying out the harassment. It is, therefore, essential that systems are put in place to protect individuals and to provide confidential, easily accessible policies and procedures for employees to tackle the issue with the full support of their employers.


Harassment in the workplace can create an unhappy and uncreative workplace. The implications for this are staggering not only in terms of lost productivity due to absence but also the effect on staff morale and mental health. It can lead to a host of issues and costly procedures and court cases.

There have also been some alarming statistics published around bullying but most worryingly of all 35% of people left their jobs because of bullying and 46% said it affected their performance.

As you probably know most organisations have a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment. By fully understanding the ways harassment in the workplace can present itself and having in place robust procedures to protect employees, working environments will be happier, more productive and ultimately more profitable.

You can view our Bullying and Harassment online training course here.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/workplace-bullying-and-harassment

[2] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents