What is Harassment ?

The Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2011 defines harassment as any form of:-

“unwanted conduct (related to any of the nine discriminatory grounds listed below) that is defined as having the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.  Unwanted conduct may consist of acts, requests, spoken words, gestures or the production, display or circulation of written words, pictures, or other material.” 

The Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2011 renders the harassment of employees unlawful.  Harassment has to be based on any of the nine discriminatory grounds listed below.

  • Gender
  • Civil status
  • Family status, for example, as a parent of a child
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Religious belief
  • Membership of the Traveller community

Harassment that is based on any of these grounds is a form of discrimination in relation to conditions of employment.

Forms of Harassment

Harassment can take many forms, some examples of which are provided below for illustrative purposes only.  This non-exhaustive list is taken from the Equality Authority’s Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work.

  • Verbal Harassment – jokes, comments, ridicule or songs
  • Written Harassment – faxes, text messages, emails, notices etc
  • Physical Harassment – jostling, shoving, any form of assault
  • Intimidatory Harassment – gestures, posturing or threatening poses
  • Visual Display – posters, emblems or badges
  • Isolation or exclusion from social activities
  • Pressure to behave in a manner that the employee thinks is inappropriate, for example being required to dress in a manner unsuited to a person’s ethnic or religious background

Some other important points to note:

  • The Acts protect employees from harassment by the employer, fellow employees, clients, customers and other business contacts including any person with whom the employer might reasonably expect the employee to come into contact in the workplace.  This may include those who supply or deliver goods/services to the employer, volunteers and those retained on maintenance contracts or other types of professional contract
  • In addition, the Acts cover situations where harassment takes place beyond the workplace such as work-related conferences, training and social events and so on
  • The Acts also provide for situations where the employee does not necessarily have the relevant characteristic but the harasser believes that he/she has the characteristic, for example, if the harasser thought the person was a member of the Traveller community and the employee was not
  • A single incident may constitute sexual harassment
  • It is up to each employee to decide what behaviour is “unwanted” and from whom such behaviour is “unwanted”
  • The fact that an individual has previously agreed to the behaviour does not stop him/her from deciding that it has now become “unwanted”
  • The intention of the harasser is irrelevant; the fact that he/she had no intention of harassing a colleague /colleagues is no defence

Summary of Legal Tests

For a finding of harassment to be upheld, the investigator(s) must be satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that;

a)    the complainant is an employee of the employers and that the conduct of the person complained of occurred in the employee’s workplace or otherwise in the course of his/her employment

b)    The conduct complained of, was by a person who was an employee or employer or someone with whom the employer contractually obliged the employee to come into contact in the employee’s workplace or otherwise in the course of his/her employment; and

c)    The conduct complained of;

i.      Was unwanted and related to any of eight (excluding gender) discriminatory grounds; and

ii.     Had the purpose or effect or violating the person’s dignity; and

iii.    Created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person