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Defending harassment claims

There is no statutory defence to an allegation of discriminatory harassment.

A complaint or claim of discriminatory harassment may be brought by service user/client, if, as a result of their protected characteristic, they are subjected to unwanted conduct, (whether this be verbal or physical), which has the purpose or effect of violating their dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

Businesses, organisations and associations are liable and will be held responsible for all acts of their employees or agents in this context, whether the business or organisation did or did not have knowledge and/or approve of the alleged actions of their staff or agents.


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Preventative action

The most prudent way for businesses to guard against potential liability is to ensure that they have consistently, in the course of their business, taken preventative steps to stop discrimination taking place. Such steps would include:

  • Devising and implementing an equality and diversity policy, which will promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the course of the business’ activity
  • Delivering equality and diversity training to all staff/agents and ensuring that regular refresher training is provided
  • Establishing and communicating clear policies on how concerns and complaints can be raised by employees and service users, and how they are to be dealt with.

Defending a complaint or claim of discriminatory harassment

Where a complaint or claim of harassment is received from a client/service user, the best way to attempt to defend it, is to first investigate and gather as much evidence as possible to establish whether the alleged conduct has occurred. This could include the gathering and consideration of CCTV footage, audio recordings, witness statements of staff involved and all equality and diversity policies and training records available.

What if the harassment didn’t take place?

If you find that the conduct alleged has not occurred then all evidence in support of this can be referred to in any response to the complaint or claim.

What if the harassment did take place?

If your investigation reveals that the acts complained of did take place, then you should undertake an immediate review of all preventative action which the business has taken to avoid service users being subjected to such treatment. If it can be proven that adequate measures have been taken by the business to prevent such behaviour, then there is potential for this to be accepted by a County Court as a defence to the claim.  

It is extremely important to seek specialist legal advice and assistance in dealing with complaints or claims of this nature to minimise the potentially costly consequences of a claim and to protect the reputation of your business. Contact our discrimination law experts on 0161 696 6170.

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