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Defining Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination


Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour involving the misuse of power that can make a person feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened.

Power does not always mean being in a position of authority, but can include both personal strength and the power to coerce through fear or intimidation.

Bullying can take the form of physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct.

Non-verbal conduct includes postings on social media outlets, behaviours can include:

  • shouting at
  • being sarcastic towards
  • ridiculing or demeaning others
  • physical or psychological threats
  • overbearing and intimidating levels of supervision
  • inappropriate and/or derogatory remarks about someone's performance
  • abuse of authority or power by those in positions of seniority
  • deliberately excluding someone from meetings or communications without good reason.



Unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct which may intentionally or unintentionally violate a person’s dignity or create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment which interferes with an individual’s learning, working or social environment.

Unlawful harassment may involve conduct of a sexual nature (sexual harassment), or it may be related to a protected characteristic, behaviours can include:

  • unwanted physical conduct of ‘horseplay”, including touching, pinching, pushing, grabbing, brushing past someone, invading their personal space and more serious forms of physical or sexual assault
  • unwelcome sexual advances or suggestive behaviour (which the harasser may perceive as harmless), and suggestions that sexual favours may further a career or that a refusal may hinder it
  • continued suggestions for social activity after it has been made clear that such suggestions are unwelcome; sending or displaying material that is pornographic or that some people may find offensive (including e-mails, text messages, video clips and images sent by mobile phone or posted on the internet)
  • offensive or intimidating comments or gestures, or insensitive jokes or pranks
  • mocking, mimicking or belittling a person’s disability or supposed disability
  • racist, sexist, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or ageist jokes, or derogatory or stereotypical remarks about a particular ethnic or religious group, nationalisty or gender
  • outing or threatening to out someone as gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans; or ignoring or shunning someone, for example, by deliberately excluding them from a conversation or a workplace social activity
  • refusing to use the correct name or gender for a trans person
A person may be harassed even if they were not the intended "target". For example, a person may be harassed by racist jokes about a different ethnic group if they create an offensive environment.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides more detailed information on harassment related to a protected characteristic, sexual harassment, harassment by people who work for you;  less favourable treatment because they submit to or reject sexual harassment or harassment related to sex.

Unlawful discrimination takes place when an individual or a group of people is treated less favourably than others based on a protected characteristic

Direct Discrimination

Occurs where someone is treated less favourably because of one of the protected characteristic; this can include association with or a perception of a particular characteristic.

Indirect Discrimination

Occurs where someone is disadvantaged by an unjustified provision, criteria or practice that puts people with a particular protected characteristic at a disadvantage compared with others who do not share that characteristic.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides more detail on discrimination.