Harassment and
discrimination at work

Everyone deserves to feel safe and accepted wherever they are, including the workplace. Under the Equality Act 2010, bullying, discrimination and harassment in the workplace in the UK is unlawful and non-compliance can lead to severe consequences for business that ignore their obligations and/or create unsafe and toxic workplace environments.

How to identify harassment and
discrimination at work

To effectively identify whether harassment or discrimination is occurring in your workplace, you need to understand four key areas: what behaviours constitute harassment and discrimination, what types of workplace harassment and discrimination can occur, what signs to look out for, and how they can impact your business.

Learn more about  how to indetify bullying and harassment in the workplace >

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What are the different types of bullying, harassment, and discrimination in the workplace? 

Even though harassment and discrimination have been illegal for decades, they still happen and can take many different forms. In order to eradicate toxic workplace culture and mitigate risk from costly legal action, companies need to create an environment where people can quickly spot bullying, harassment, and discrimination and feel supported to speak up. The best ways to achieve this are by providing clear policies and ongoing educational programmes that ensure awareness and zero tolerance.  

It’s also important to keep in mind that anyone can bully others. According to research from the Workplace Bullying Institute, about 70% of bullies were male, and about 30% are female and 61% of bullying comes from bosses or supervisors, while 33% comes from co-workers.  

Some common examples of harassment and discrimination that can occur in the workplace include: 


The United Nations defines harassment as any improper and unwelcome conduct that might reasonably be expected or perceived to annoy, alarm, abuse, demean, intimidate, belittle, humiliate, or embarrass another person. Workplace harassment examples include:

  • Personal harassment: Inappropriate comments, offensive jokes, humiliation, critical remarks, or ostracising behaviours

  • Physical harassment: Direct threats of intent to inflict harm, physical attacks, threatening behaviour, or destroying property to intimidate

  • Power harassment: Excessive demands that are impossible to meet, demeaning demands far below the employee’s capability, or intrusion into the employee’s personal life

  • Psychological harassment: Isolating or denying the victim’s presence, belittling or trivialising the victim’s thoughts, discrediting or spreading rumours about the victim, or opposing or challenging everything the victim says

  • Sexual harassment: Sharing sexual photos (pornography), posting sexual posters, sexual comments or jokes, questions about one’s sex life or sexual orientation (including gender identity), inappropriate sexual touching, inappropriate sexual gestures, or invading personal space in a sexual way

  • Third-party harassment: Harassing behaviour from a client, customer, contractor, or another person from outside of the business



Discrimination is any unfair treatment or arbitrary distinction—direct or indirect—based on someone’s protected classes. Here are some examples of discrimination at work:

  • Racial discrimination (including race, color, and ethnicity)

  • Disability discrimination

  • Pregnancy discrimination (including maternity/paternity leave)

  • Gender discrimination

  • Age discrimination

  • Sexual orientation discrimination

  • Religious discrimination

  • Parental status discrimination

  • Genetic information (including family medical history)


Bullying is a common type of workplace harassment. Unlike harassment, bullying is not classified as illegal—but it can be classed as harassment if the behaviour is repeated over time to the point that it creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive environment. Examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Verbal bullying: Mockery, humiliation, jokes, gossip, or other spoken abuse

  • Intimidation bullying: Threats, social exclusion in the workplace, spying, or other invasions of privacy

  • Bullying related to work performance: Wrongful blame, work sabotage or interference, or stealing or taking credit for ideas

  • Retaliatory bullying: In some cases, talking about the bullying can lead to accusations of lying, further exclusion, refused promotions, or other retaliation

  • Cyberbullying: Sharing humiliating things about the victim by mass email or mass chat, spreading lies or gossip about the victim on social media, or sending harassing instant messages or text messages directly to the victim

  • Institutional bullying: When a workplace accepts, allows, and even encourages bullying to take place. This bullying might include unrealistic production goals, forced overtime, or singling out those who can’t keep up.

How does harassment and discrimination impact the workplace and why is it important to address?

Studies show that we spend at least one-third of our lives at work—or over 90,000 hours in a person’s lifetime. Creating a harassment and discrimination-free workplace should not only be about mitigating risk and meeting regulatory obligations, but also ensuring that your employees—who spend the majority of their waking hours at work—are looked after and nurtured in a positive workplace environment where they can be themselves.

Harassment and discrimination can drain employees' motivation, productivity, and engagement at work—resulting in high staff turnover as well as issues with recruiting new talent. Workplaces with high rates of bullying and harassment can also experience serious negative consequences, such as:

  • Liability and financial loss from legal costs or investigations
  • Decreased productivity and morale
  • Increased employee absences
  • High staff turnover rates
  • Poor team dynamics
  • Reduced trust, effort, and loyalty from employees
  • Reduced job satisfaction and motivation
  • Issues with employee commitment, loyalty and turnover
  • Reduced reputation and recruitment

Find out more how harassment affects the workplace here >

What are employers’ legal obligations in the UK? 

In the United Kingdom, harassment because of someone's age, disability, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and other protected characteristics is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

That said, harassment that’s entirely unrelated to a protected characteristic isn't covered by the Act. However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission offer specific guidelines on harassment and the Equality Act, including a code of practice on employment. The code is not a legally binding document, but it provides important information on good practice. Failure to follow the guidelines may be taken into account by tribunals or courts.

The UK legal position on bullying is more complex, as there's no single piece of legislation which deals with workplace bullying. Bullying may be covered by:

  • The Equality Act 2010, if it is linked to a protected characteristic.
  • The Employment Rights Act 1996, especially the "detriment” provisions.
  • Claims for breach of an express or implied term of the employment contract—for example, breach of the implied term to take care of employees.
  • Criminal or civil provisions under the Protection from Harassment Act, 1998.

Bullying may also be covered by other legal principles and laws, such as:

  • The common law obligation for an employer to take care of workers’ safety.
  • Personal injury protection and duties to take care of workers arising out of Tort law.
  • Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974.
  • Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, 1994.
  • Whistleblower protections.
  • Human Rights Act, 1998.

How to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace 

In order to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace, you need to have strong processes in place as well as full commitment to the mission by the entire organisation. It is crucial for you to include the following elements as part of your strategy: 

  • Strong sexual harassment training programme that is measurable  
  • Anti-harassment and discrimination policy
  • Robust grievance procedure or consider alternative complaint systems such as: 
  • The ombuds office; or 
  • Voluntary dispute resolution that relies on mediation 
  • Create a clear process for dealing with perpetrators 
  • Transform your company culture so that fighting harassment becomes part of your mission 
  • Consider whether mandatory arbitration contracts are right for your business 
  • Implement a train-the-trainer programme where employees become anti-harassment champions  
  • Build a harassment task force  
  • And last but not least, publish the numbers—if you publish data that exposes a problem, managers will focus on it, and solving the problem will become part of the culture. 

How to address discrimination in the workplace

Think about building an anti-harassment and discrimination programme that provides ongoing learning, centered around measurable and specific goals, and has full backing from every employee of the organisation whether they are part of the senior leadership team or an entry-level worker.  

Include the following: 

  • A multi-touch learning campaign incorporating not only training but other communication tactics and formats 
  • Put a plan in place to address discrimination and power dynamics 
  • Emphasise in your training programme that not only women can be targets of sexual harassment, and that men and people who do not identify within the gender binary are also affected 
  • Ensure leadership support as well as their full dedication to the message and holding harassers accountable for their actions 
  • Include clear goals, follow-up processes, and measurement of programme effectiveness, which will also enable you to address any areas that are not working or require optimisation 

Looking to find out how to meet
your legal obligations?

What are the steps to address harassment and discrimination at work?

Top down or bottom up, preventing bullying, harassment and discrimination at work is everyone’s responsibility—from the board of directors, to managers and supervisors, to any other employee.

Employers should have a robust and well-communicated policy and guidance that clearly states the organisation's commitment to promoting a positive workplace culture and zero tolerance to any form of bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

Here are five key steps to addressing harassment and discrimination at work:

Create an environment of respect and put measures in place to prevent toxic workplace culture

Prevention and proactively mitigating risk is always better than reactive firefighting. Putting measures in place to minimise the risk of a toxic work culture developing and promoting a positive climate at work for everyone based on personal respect and dignity will help to prevent inappropriate behaviour. Senior leaders should communicate a clear vision of what a climate of dignity and respect looks like and demonstrate strong values supporting the organisation's stance.

Develop a clear reporting and investigation process

To quickly identify and address any occurrences of harassment and discrimination at work, have a clear process for how to report and investigate allegations of misconduct. Employees should know the steps they need to take if they are dealing with harassment or witness a colleague being bullied. Having an open and positive workplace culture that values speaking up will also make employees feel safe and encouraged to come forward, saving you time and legal hassle down the line.

Provide employee guidance and counselling

Any employee who makes a harassment complaint should have access to guidance and counseling, whether it’s from someone inside the organisation trained for this role or from an outsourced service. This allows them to talk in confidence about any inappropriate behaviour they’ve experienced or witnessed so they can discuss options and decide themselves whether to progress a complaint. Guidance and counseling can be offered to people whose behaviour is unacceptable, as well as those affected.

Develop anti-harassment and discrimination policies and communications

A well-designed anti-harassment policy and communication plan are both essential to tackle workplace bullying or harassment. They should give examples of what constitutes harassment, bullying, and intimidating behaviour and explain their damaging effects on employees and the business. It's also important to explain why workplace harassment, bullying, and discrimination will not be tolerated and clarify any legal implications and potential personal liability. To ensure effectiveness, regularly monitor and review your policies and any records of complaints—including why and how they occurred, who was involved and where—to ensure resolution and no victimisation.

Build a strong anti-harassment and discrimination training programme

Having effective and engaging anti-harassment and discrimination training is a must for any workplace, whether you’re looking at prevention and risk mitigation or are addressing a recent non-compliance.

Effective training should be relevant to the employee population, interactive, and scenario-based. Training should also provide ample opportunity for learners to prove their knowledge through exercises that reinforce key concepts. Reaching your entire workforce through device agnostic training, online and offline learning options, easy-to-understand language, and easily trackable programme progress data is also key to success.

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How to deal with age discrimination in the workplace

To reduce ageism in the workplace, consider taking some of the following measures: ensure you understand the issue, have a policy in place, get leadership on board, encourage mentoring, review our personal development and promotion processes, provide training. 
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What to do if an employee is sexually harassed

When dealing with sexual harassment complaints you should consider the following: take any complaint of sexual harassment very seriously, think very carefully about the way you handle the complaint, ensure you do it fairly and sensitively and follow the right procedures 
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What should be included in an anti-harassment policy

A thorough anti-harassment policy should include the following elements as a minimum: intent and scope, definition of harassment, reporting of harassment incidents, investigation procedure, disciplinary action for perpetrators.  

Recognise and prevent
sexual harassment in the workplace 

Why is anti-harassment and
discrimination training important?

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Harassment prevention training raises awareness across the organisation of both what harassment is and the role employees can play in helping to create a safe workplace culture free from harassment. Anti-harassment and discrimination training is important to construct a safe workplace culture. However, many companies have seen an increase in workplace harassment complaints—and not all of them offer essential training. By educating employees, anti-harassment and discrimination training helps them understand what sexual harassment is and how to identify if it is taking place. The small investment made by businesses to provide training is well worth the payoff for their employees.

Find out more about why harassment and discrimination training is important >

What are the different types of anti-harassment
and discrimination training?

There is a wide range of anti-harassment and discrimination training courses available out there. Ultimately, it’s important to choose training that is relevant to your employees and encourages knowledge retention through interactive and attention-grabbing scenario-based learning. Some of the most popular courses that LRN offers include:


Anti-Harassment & Discrimination

Easy and fast adjustments of elements is possible withWe all deserve a workplace where we feel safe, respected, and valued for who we are. Find out how to recognise, prevent, and manage harassing and discriminatory behaviour with this global course so we can create inclusive and respectful workplaces free from harassment and discrimination.  Core template. Find our more about our all-in-one programmatic template.

Creating a Harassment-Free Workplace

Easy and fast. This course covers every facet of harassment in the workplace, including how to avoid causing harassment, and how to respond if subjected to it. While the laws may vary from country to country, the core principle is consistent: every employee deserves an environment that allows them to work to their full potential.t adjustments of elements is possible with Core template. Find our more about our all-in-one programmatic template.

Preventing Sexual Harassment

This visually-rich course helps supervisors learn about the legal and practical aspects of workplace harassment, including who's protected against it, how and where it can happen, and the actions leaders can take to keep workplaces safe and productive. 

Bullying in the Workplace

This engaging, character-based course serves as a guide for your employees to help them identify-and respond to-workplace bullying.

Best practices for anti-harassment and discrimination training

Creating strong anti-harassment and discrimination training will make or break your programme. That’s why it’s important to ensure your training is interactive and facilitated by a qualified trainer or training provider with years of experience and a wide range of expertise in the sector. If you deliver training online, make sure it’s available in multiple formats—including mobile, desktop, and offline—and that courses have a high-quality user experience to ensure adoption. Training should also provide specific examples of unacceptable behaviours within your sector/business, as opposed to making general statements.

Finally, evaluate and re-evaluate. Being able to measure your training effectiveness and make adjustments is crucial to driving employee completion and ensuring your programme’s overall success.

How to make harassment training engaging

Ensuring that your harassment and discrimination training is engaging will immensely increase the chances of adoption and your employees absorbing and retaining information.   

Some ideas of increasing the engagement with your harassment and discrimination training courses include:  

  • Make courses interactive 
  • Using different media, such as videos  
  • Make training and examples relevant to your industry  
  • Train workers on positive behaviours and what they should be doing  
  • Reach your employees where they are by providing training via different methods, such as virtual, blended, online, mobile, face to face and so on 
When should anti-harassment training be provided

In July 2021, the UK government introduced new legislation for employers to take proactive steps to prevent harassment at work. 

According to the Government Equalities Office, employers are now liable if they fail to provide a workplace free of harassment. Employers need to show they have current anti-harassment policies in place, along with up-to-date training for their employees. 

What topics should your harassment training and policy cover

Some of the topics that need to be covered by your anti-harassment and discrimination training and policy include: the specifics of your policy against harassment, what is unwelcome conduct, hostile work environment, quid pro quo, and bullying, how to deal with harassment, bystander Intervention, illegal retaliation, how to file complaints, company procedures for investigation and resolution, anti-harassment laws in your country, protections offered by the law for victims of harassment 

How to choose the best anti-harassment,
training programme

Harassment in the workplace can be a nuanced, complicated, and delicate topic to broach. Employees must understand that it’s not our intent that matters, but the impact of our words and actions on others. This requires a training programme that helps employees learn how to recognise and prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Most importantly, it helps create an environment where people feel safe and empowered to speak up and report harassment and discrimination. 

Prioritising instructional design that’s been grounded in research and proven effective can make a huge difference in influencing behaviour. Scenario-based learning is especially effective in anti-harassment training; it creates a learning environment where employees can put themselves in real-life scenarios that are relevant to their everyday work environments. Training that is device agnostic and available on- and offline is also key to ensuring


How to build an anti-harassment and discrimination training programme 

Building an anti-harassment and discrimination programme is not an easy task and can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re just getting started. Here some key things to keep in mind as you begin developing your programme: 

  • Customise training to your workplace. 
  • Go beyond focusing your content around legal compliance and truly bring it to life. 
  • Cover subtle harassment and discrimination issues, such as microaggressions that may not be obvious. 
  • Set training goals and KPIs to measure programme effectiveness. 
  • Don’t just provide ongoing training, but build a campaign including a range of materials, tactics, and resources that reinforce knowledge. 
  • Ensure you choose the right training format for your employees to maximise engagement and adoption.  
Measuring Anti-Harassment and Discrimination programme effectiveness

A central challenge for compliance professionals is operationalising ethics and elevating workplace behaviour. Guidance continually provided by regulatory bodies worldwide prioritises programme results over programme content. Below are factors to consider as you evaluate the effectiveness of your anti-harassment and discrimination curriculum. 

  • Does it go beyond meeting minimum regulatory requirements to emphasise ethical behaviour? 
  • Are your employees actively completing the course and demonstrating an understanding of the content? 
  • Do leaders and key stakeholders reinforce the subject of Anti-Harassment and Discrimination? 
  • Are employees attesting to your Anti-Harassment and Discrimination policy and actively raising concerns? 
  • Is the business investigating reports in a timely and efficient manner? 
How to plan sexual harassment training?

To effectively plan for sexual harassment training, consider the following: 

  • A multi-touch learning campaign incorporating not only training but other communication tactics and formats 
  • Put a plan in place to address discrimination and power dynamics 
  • Emphasise in your training programme that not only women can be targets of sexual harassment, and that men and people who do not identify within the gender binary are also affected 
  • Ensure leadership support as well as their full dedication to the message and holding harassers accountable for their actions 
  • Include clear goals, follow-up processes, and measurement of programme effectiveness, which will also enable you to address any areas that are not working or require optimisation 
How to announce sexual harassment training?

You need to be very careful when announcing mandatory sexual harassment training in order to avoid alienating employees and getting backlash. Announced in the wrong way mandatory training can send the message that employees must pay attention to the issue, and it focuses on forbidden behaviours, which signals that everyone is immoral and doesn’t know where the line is. Whenever we tell people that they’re the problem, they’ll get defensive – and once that happens, they’ll be much less likely to become part of the solution. 

To avoid backlash when announcing sexual harassment training consider the following: 

  • Ensure the core messaging highlights the need for sexual harassment training 
  • Send positive and encouraging messaging 
  • Demonstrate leadership buy-in which would set the tone for everyone 
  • Ensure that you provide meaningful, accessible and interactive content 

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Why work with LRN?

When it comes to building and maintaining an ethical work culture, you need trusted expertise. For over 25 years, LRN has helped organisations like yours build ethics and compliance programmes that reduce risk and meet industry requirements while still prioritising organisational culture, the learner experience, and business performance.  

We offer personalised services and products that are designed with your specific needs in mind, including:  

  • A compliance management, analytics, and disclosures platform 

  • Advisory services 

  • Library training courses
  • Custom learning content  


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