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Discrimination in health and care services - harassment

This advice applies to England

The Equality Act 2010 protects you from harassment by a healthcare or care professional. Harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination and includes things like abusive or threatening comments, jokes or behaviour. If you’ve experienced harassment, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about harassment when you receive healthcare and care services.

When is it harassment?

Harassment is a form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the civil courts. If you’ve been treated badly, but it’s not unlawful discrimination there may be other things you can do.

Harassment is unwanted behaviour which you find offensive or which makes you feel intimidated or humiliated.

Unwanted behaviour could be:

  • spoken or written words or abuse
  • offensive emails, tweets or comments on social networking sites
  • images and graffiti
  • physical gestures
  • facial expressions
  • jokes.

You don’t need to have previously objected to something for it to be unwanted.

When is harassment unlawful discrimination?

Harassment by someone providing healthcare or care services is unlawful if it’s because of, or related to:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • sex.

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics. Harassment because of one of these characteristics is called harassment related to a protected characteristic.

Example

A hospital receptionist makes offensive comments in front of you to other people in the reception area referring to the fact that you’re a Romany Gypsy. This is harassment related to race.

When is it not harassment?

It’s not harassment if the behaviour is related to:

  • pregnancy and maternity
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation.

But it could be direct discrimination if you’re worse off because of the harassment. Also unwanted behaviour which is because of your pregnancy and maternity may be harassment related to sex.

Example

Your homecare support worker is verbally abusive towards you because he doesn’t like homosexual people. This is not harassment, but it could be direct discrimination because of sexual orientation. He’s treating you differently and worse than someone else because you’re gay.

What’s meant by sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is where the unwanted behaviour is of a sexual nature.

This can include:

  • sexual comments or jokes
  • physical conduct, including unwelcome sexual advances, touching, forms of sexual assault
  • displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature
  • sending emails with a sexual content.

Example

A nurse at your local minor injuries clinic makes sexual advances to you when you come in for a consultation.

Example

The manager of your care home displays posters of a sexual nature in his office. He doesn’t mean to offend anyone, but you think they’re intimidating and offensive. This is also sexual harassment.

If you’re treated badly because of your reaction to harassment

If you’re treated badly because of your reaction to sexual harassment or harassment which is related to sex or gender reassignment, you may have a claim under the Equality Act. The Act says this is also harassment. You’re protected if you either reject or submit to the harassment.

The person who treats you badly can be the person who actually harassed you, but it can also be someone else.

Example

A healthcare assistant at the hospital where you’re a patient asks you out. When you reject her, she reacts by being rude and neglects your care. This is also harassment and you can take action under the Equality Act.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

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