Harassment

There are three types of harassment which are unlawful under the Equality Act:

  • Harassment related to a relevant protected characteristic.  
  • Sexual harassment.  
  • Less favourable treatment of a pupil because they submit to or reject sexual harassment or harassment related to sex.

The relevant protected characteristics for the schools provisions are:

  • Disability.  
  • Race.  
  • Sex.

Pregnancy and maternity are not protected directly under the harassment provisions, however, unwanted behaviour (as described below) will amount to harassment related to sex.

The harassment provisions do not explicitly apply to the protected characteristics of gender reassignment, sexual orientation or religion or belief in relation to schools. However, where unwanted conduct related to any of these protected characteristics results in a pupil suffering disadvantage that would constitute direct discrimination.

Harassment occurs when you engage in unwanted behaviour which is related to a relevant protected characteristic and which has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating a pupil’s dignity, or  
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the pupil.

The word ‘unwanted’ means ‘unwelcome’ or ‘uninvited’. It is not necessary for the pupil to say that they object to the behaviour for it to be unwanted.

In this context ‘related to’ has a broad meaning and includes situations where the pupil who is on the receiving end of the unwanted behaviour does not have the protected characteristic himself or herself, provided there is a connection between the behaviour and a protected characteristic. This would also include situations where the pupil is associated with someone who has a protected characteristic, or is wrongly perceived as having a particular protected characteristic.

For example:

A pupil from an Irish Traveller background overhears a teacher making racial slurs about gypsy and traveller people stating their site should be shut down and they were ‘trouble’. This would constitute harassment related to a protected characteristic (race).  

The definition of harassment as described above does not apply to the protected characteristics of gender reassignment, sexual orientation or religion or belief in relation to schools. However, where unwanted conduct related to any of these protected characteristics results in a pupil suffering disadvantage that would constitute direct discrimination.

For example:

During a PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education) lesson, a teacher describes homosexuality as ‘unnatural’ and ‘depraved’ and states he will only be covering heterosexual relationships in the lesson. A bisexual pupil in the class is upset and offended by these comments. This may be unlawful direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment occurs when you engage in unwanted behaviour which is of a sexual nature and which has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating a pupil’s dignity, or  
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the pupil.

‘Of a sexual nature’ can cover verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct including unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriate touching, forms of sexual assault, sexual jokes, displaying pornographic photographs or drawings, or sending emails with material of a sexual nature.

For example:

A sixth form female pupil is asked intimate questions about her personal life and subjected to sexual innuendos by her teacher. This would be sexual harassment.

It is unlawful to treat a pupil less favourably because they either submit to, or reject, sexual harassment or harassment related to their sex.

back to top