How harassment hits both ways

Bullying has been hitting the headlines in recent weeks, demonstrating that no matter how high you fly, wings can be burned.

These cases show the importance of having the right policies and working practices in place, and for organisations to work on creating the right culture for everyone, especially for those at the most senior level as they cannot be ‘above’ such things.

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination and harassment that is related to a protected characteristic.  These are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation; also pregnancy and maternity where the protection against harassment is subject to slightly different rules.

And while bullying itself is not against the law, it can easily become harassment, which is unlawful. Harassment is when a worker is subjected to unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic that violates their dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.  Examples include making offensive sexual comments, or abusing someone for their race, religion or sexual orientation.

It means all employers have a duty of care to protect their workers and may be liable for discrimination or harassment in the workplace if they have not taken reasonable steps to prevent it.

Everyone is entitled to work in a safe environment, free from harassment, including raised voices and inappropriate attention, whatever the circumstances and whatever their status. It’s vital that policies and culture in the workplace are clearly understood and exhibited at all levels.

Importantly, when complaints are made against senior staff, clear action should be taken to tackle the sort of behaviour which caused the problem.

But bullying is not confined to those in more senior positions and a regular review can help uncover instances of bullying at all levels and identify routes to resolve tricky relationships.  One recent case highlighted the challenges that can arise, here for a manager in charge of a neurodiverse employee who exhibited challenging behaviour, at times reducing the manager to tears.  Reviewing the case of McQueen v General Optical Council the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld a decision that the employee had not been discriminated against when he was disciplined for aggressive and disruptive conduct, which he had argued was due to his recognised disability.

This case was complex, and employers can’t assume it provides a template for a similar situation, but it does demonstrate how an individual may feel they can expect ‘special’ treatment and are allowed to behave differently to others, whether through seniority or for other complex reasons, such as here.

To discuss this, or any other related matter with Jane and her team, please call us, start a live chat or email us at

*This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.


Jane Crosby

Partner, Head of Dispute Resolution & Accredited Mediator

Jane is a Partner based in the Guildford office and she is also Head of the Dispute Resolution team here at Hart Brown. Jane specialises...

Jane Crosby -Head of Dispute Resolution

Partner, Head of Dispute Resolution & Accredited Mediator

Jane Crosby

Jane is a Partner based in the Guildford office and she is also Head of the Dispute Resolution team here at Hart Brown. Jane specialises in employment Law and commercial litigation and brings more than 15 years' experience to her role.

Prior to entering the legal profession, Jane was employed in the aviation industry. This experience is appreciated by many of Jane's clients who note that she is able to take a commercial and pragmatic approach to any legal issue that they face.

Jane acts for a wide range of individuals and businesses and her areas of specialism include aviation, property related industries and IT. Jane regularly advises on aspects of employment law, such as settlement agreements, employment contracts, policies and procedures, redundancies, equal pay, data protection, issues arising from TUPE and reorganisations, the calculation of holiday pay, bonus and commission payments, disciplinary and grievance issues, dismissal and termination issues, the protection of confidential information and the enforcement of restrictive covenants. Jane gets involved in GDPR training for her clients and she is able to deliver tailored employment law training sessions upon request.

As a commercial litigation lawyer, Jane also deals in shareholder and directors disputes, commercial contract disputes and the enforcement of restrictive covenants.

Jane has been involved in successful high value commercial litigation for clients in the High Courts, she is an accredited mediator and she is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association.

Jane is often asked to write for a number of well known publications, including The Daily Mail, The Telegraph and The Week and she has been interviewed on BBC Radio 4.

Here is small selection of the feedback that Jane has received:

“Jane, I cannot sincerely thank you enough for your wise counsel and am delighted to have made your acquaintance. If I am blessed with a new position somewhere I will hand over my contract in the first instance to you. Likewise, any of my friends, peers, romans and countrymen wanting advice, I will point them in your direction.”

“Jane, you have been most resilient on my behalf for which I sincerely thank you for all your endeavours. I have a tremendous working relationship with Hart Brown and you have undoubtedly compounded this further."

“I appreciated the clarity of advice given at a stressful time”.

“A sensitive and highly professional approach and efficient work in the interests of the client”.

“Your advice, conduct and assistance have been indeed outstanding and very professional but also – and most importantly – very humane”.