FAQs on Harassment, victimisation and discrimination
I’m pregnant and my line manager is constantly making remarks about my extra kilos. They know I have insecurities about my weight and I feel really uncomfortable about them bringing it up all the time. What can I do about this?
Unless your job requires certain physical attributes and capabilities (which would be unusual), comments about your weight are not appropriate. Assuming your weight is irrelevant to your job, you are receiving unwanted conduct as a consequence of your pregnancy and as a result this has created a degrading and humiliating environment for you or you may feel that your dignity has been violated. Whilst pregnancy is not a protected characteristic for the purpose of harassment claims, you can bring a claim for harassment relating to sex against your line manager and/or your employer.
I’m pregnant and on probation. I told my line manager I was pregnant two weeks ago. Last week, she tweeted that women who start jobs immediately after becoming pregnant are just after their employer’s money. I complained about this tweet to HR. Since then, my 121 reviews have been a lot worse and my line manager is constantly commenting on my performance, which hasn’t actually gotten any worse. I’m scared they’ll fail my probation. What should I do?
Provided your performance at work has not actually worsened so as to justify increased negative feedback in your 121 reviews, you may be able to bring a claim for victimisation.
In this case your line manager has engaged in conduct that is unwanted which has created an offensive environment for you. Whilst claims cannot be made for harassment on the basis of pregnancy, this may constitute harassment on the basis of sex. You have subsequently complained about the comments made by your line manager and may be suffering a detriment at work because of your complaint. This may be sufficient for you to bring a victimisation claim against your line manager.
Additionally if you fail probation as a consequence of your pregnancy, this will constitute less favourable treatment due to pregnancy which is a form of direct discrimination.
I work in a bar and now that I am pregnant, a regular customer started patting my stomach, which I find offensive. But my boss just laughs it off and says I am oversensitive. Is it harassment?
The patting of your stomach by the customer is clearly unwanted behaviour and has created an offensive environment for you, whilst a claim for harassment cannot be brought for pregnancy this could constitute harassment on the basis of sex.
As your employer knows about the harassment and has not taken reasonable steps to prevent it, they may be liable for the harassment by the customer if you can show that their failure to prevent the harassment relates to a protected characteristic such as your sex. In this case it may be arguable that your employer’s failure to take action stems from the perception that you are female and are therefore oversensitive.
I’m a man and I want to take Shared Parental Leave. My employer is teasing me about this and making jokes about how I don’t wear the trousers in the relationship. This is making me feel really uncomfortable, what can I do?
Your employer’s comments constitute unwanted conduct as a consequence of your intention to take shared parental leave and as a result this seems to have created an intimidating and humiliating environment for you. Whilst maternity and paternity leave are not protected characteristics for the purpose of harassment claims, you can bring a claim for harassment relating to sex against your employer.
I’m in a same sex couple and my partner and I are going to be having a child. We are both female, and have decided it will be me who will become pregnant. My line manager knows about our plans and is constantly nagging me saying it should be my partner that carries the baby. He has also said that I’m unlikely to be promoted in the next few years if I go on maternity leave. Is this harassment?
Your line manager’s comments constitute unwanted conduct as a consequence of your intended pregnancy and as a result this seems to have created an intimidating and hostile environment. Whilst pregnancy is not a protected characteristic for the purpose of harassment claims, you can bring a claim for harassment relating to sex against your line manager and/or your employer or you may be able to bring a claim related to sexual orientation.
Additionally if you are held back from promotion in the future as a consequence of your maternity leave or your sexual orientation, this will constitute less favourable treatment due to maternity or sexual orientation which is a form of direct discrimination.
I have a disabled child. A very senior member of staff in my organisation has been being really awful to me and regularly seems to be impersonating someone with a disability when we cross paths. I know it’s my child who is disabled, not me – but how do I go about challenging this?
Employees are protected against harassment based on someone else’s protected characteristic (associative harassment). This means that as the senior staff member is behaving in a way that is unwanted seemingly towards you which is causing an offensive environment for you, you are the victim of harassment related to disability (the disability of your son). As a result you can bring a claim for harassment related to disability against just your employer or the employer and staff member.
I’m female and work in a very male dominated environment and have requested flexible working. They’ve rejected my request saying “we don’t do flexible work, if you want to work part-time go elsewhere.” Is this harassment?
As not working flexibly appears to be a policy applied to everyone, male or female, this is unlikely to constitute harassment based on the grounds of sex. However, if it is the case that this policy disproportionately disadvantages women in comparison to men, then this may be an instance of indirect discrimination relating to sex.
Currently the burden of childcare falls more on women than men in society, so the policy of not allowing flexible working is going to disadvantage women more than men. This is therefore indirect discrimination unless your employer can demonstrate a good business reason for not allowing flexible working.
I’m female and my partner and I are in the process of adopting two children. I will be named as the primary adopter. My boss has said that they’re assuming I won’t be returning to work because our children will have so many psychological problems. Is this harassment?
Your employer’s comments constitute unwanted conduct which relates to your intention to adopt children and become a primary adopter and as a result this seems to have created an offensive environment for you. Adoption leave, like maternity leave, is not a protected characteristic for the purpose of harassment claims but you may be able to bring a claim for harassment relating to sex against your employer if the comments are based on a stereotypical assumption thatyou will not return to work because of your gender.
See here for more advice on what are harassment, victimisation and discrimination.
This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.
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