Down Arrow

Moral harassment – in the workplace?

07 February 2019

We recently came across the term ‘moral harassment’ and researched whether such a term has a legal basis in the UK.

Currently, there does not appear to be any legal provisions to define moral harassment under UK law. However, during our research, we noted that there were a few similarities between moral harassment and the UK’s laws on harassment, so we thought it would be a good idea to share our expert knowledge in this area.

Under the law of England and Wales:

  • A one-off incident can amount to harassment: the victim need not have made the perpetrator aware that the conduct was unwanted.
  • Conduct can amount to harassment if it is related to a relevant protected characteristic. This includes conduct engaged in by reason of a protected characteristic, and conduct that is related to a protected characteristic because of the form it takes.
  • As with direct discrimination, the Equality Act 2010 protects an employee against harassment based on someone else's protected characteristic or based on the perception that they have a protected characteristic.
  • There is no need for a comparator; the claimant does not have to show that they were or would have been treated less favourably than another person.
  • To amount to harassment, A's conduct must have the purpose or effect of violating B's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B. Where B claims that the conduct had this effect (although this was not A's purpose), the tribunal must consider whether it was reasonable for the conduct to have that effect.
  • Marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity, are not relevant protected characteristics for harassment purposes. However, unwanted conduct related to these matters could amount to sex or sexual orientation harassment.


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