Check what you can do about harassment
If you’ve experienced harassment, there are things you can do to make it stop. You can also take other action - for example, you might be able to get an apology or compensation.
You should start by checking if the harassment was discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. If it was discrimination, you have legal rights that will help you fix the situation.
If what you experienced wasn’t discrimination, you can still take action. For example, you might still be able to take the person who harassed you to court.
If your partner or family member makes you feel anxious or threatened
Contact a domestic abuse organisation to check what services are available.
Check if the harassment was discrimination
The harassment you experienced might have been discrimination under the Equality Act. You’ll need to check if:
- the person who harassed you is liable under the Equality Act
- you were harassed because of things like your age or race - these things are called ‘protected characteristics’
- what happened is harassment under the Equality Act
Check if the person is liable under the Equality Act
The Equality Act only covers harassment in some situations. For example if someone harasses you in a park or shouts at you from their car, it won’t usually be discrimination under the Equality Act.
The harassment you experienced was discrimination under the Equality Act if it was done by:
- your employer
- your school, college or university
- a business or service provider, like a shop or a train company
- a health or care provider, like a hospital or care home
- a landlord or estate agent
- public authorities, for example the police or your local council
If someone who works for one of these organisations harasses you, the organisation is also responsible for the discrimination. For example if your colleague harasses you, your colleague and your employer are both legally responsible.
If you’re using a business or service and another customer harasses you, it isn’t usually discrimination. It might be discrimination if the customer keeps harassing you and the business or service knows about it but doesn’t stop them.
Check if it was because of a protected characteristic
The harassment you experienced was discrimination under the Equality Act if it was related to one of these protected characteristics:
- religion or philosophical beliefs - for example, humanism
- gender reassignment - this means if you’re transgender
It’s also discrimination if someone harassed you because they made a mistake about your protected characteristics. For example, it’s discrimination if you and your housemate are straight but your landlord made offensive jokes about you being gay. This is called ‘discrimination by perception’.
If someone harassed you because of the protected characteristic of a person you know, it’s also discrimination. For example, it’s discrimination if you told your colleague that your partner was disabled and they started making upsetting comments about people with that disability. This is called ‘discrimination by association’.
Check if what happened is harassment under the Equality Act
The harassment you experienced was discrimination under the Equality Act if both the following apply:
- you didn’t want it to happen
- you were scared, humiliated or offended - or the person was trying to make you feel that way
Harassment can include things like verbal abuse, bullying, jokes, making faces and posting comments about you on social media. It also includes sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can include things like commenting on your clothes or appearance, sending you messages with sexual content or making sexual comments - even if they’re not about you. For example, it’s sexual harassment if you find out your colleagues are sharing offensive sexual jokes in a WhatsApp group.
It’s also harassment if someone treats you worse because of your reaction to:
- sexual harassment
- sexist or transphobic harassment
Cara's landlord tries to flirt with her and kiss her, which makes her feel very uncomfortable and embarrassed. This is harassment.
Afterwards, her landlord stops doing repairs on her house. This is also harassment. It's harassment whether Cara told her landlord to stop or let him kiss her.
If the harassment was discrimination
The action you should take depends on who harassed you.
If it was your employer
If you’re not sure if you’ve experienced discrimination, check if your problem at work is discrimination.
If you're a woman experiencing sexual harassment at work
You can get free legal advice from Rights of Women. Check how to contact Rights of Women on their website.
If it was your school, college or university
If it was a business or service
If it was a health or care service
If it was a landlord or estate agent
If you’ve complained and you haven’t got the result you want, check how to take legal action about discrimination in housing.
If it was a public authority
Get more help
If you’re still not sure if you’ve experienced discrimination or what action you should take, contact the Equality and Advisory Support Service’s discrimination helpline.
If what you experienced wasn’t discrimination
If you’ve been harassed and it’s not discrimination under the Equality Act, you might be able to take a different type of action.
You can check what to do if:
- your neighbour is harassing you
- your landlord is harassing you
- you’re in debt and your creditors are harassing you
If you’re being harassed on social media, you can get advice about online harassment on the Metropolitan Police website.
If you’re worried about stalking, the National Stalking Helpline can give you help and advice about what to do. Contact the National Stalking Helpline on their website.
Check if it’s a hate crime
It might be a hate crime or hate incident if you were harassed:
- because of your race or religion
- because of your sexuality
- because of your disability
- because you’re transgender
Reporting harassment to the police
You can report harassment to the police. They can charge someone with criminal harassment if:
- the person has harassed you more than once
- the harassment made you feel distressed or alarmed
If the police decide to charge someone, they’ll send the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS is an organisation that can take people to court - this is called ‘prosecution’. If the CPS decide not to prosecute the person who harassed you, they must let you know.
Taking someone to court for harassment
You can take someone to civil court if:
- they’ve harassed you more than once - this includes stalking
- the harassment made you feel distressed or alarmed
The court can order the person harassing you to stay away from you - this is called getting an ‘injunction’. The court can also award you compensation.
If the person keeps harassing you after you get an injunction, they’ve broken the law - this means they could go to prison.
You can go to civil court even if:
- you haven’t reported it to the police
- you reported it to the police, but the the CPS decided not to prosecute the person who harassed you
- the CPS prosecuted the person who harassed you and the court decided they weren’t guilty
If you’re thinking of applying to court, you should get legal advice. Check how to find free or affordable legal help.