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Check what you can do about harassment

This advice applies to Scotland

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:

  • age
  • disability
  • race
  • religion or philosophical beliefs - for example, humanism
  • sex
  • sexuality
  • 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

Example

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

You can check what to do if you’ve been discriminated against by your employer or at work.

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 information and advice from the Scottish Women's Rights Centre.  Check how to contact the Scottish Women's Rights Centre helpline on their website.

If it was your school, college or university

You can check what to do if you’ve been discriminated against by your school, college or university

If it was a business or service

You can check what to do if you’ve been discriminated against by a business or service provider

If it was a health or care service

You can check what to do if you’ve been discriminated against by a health or care service.

If it was a landlord or estate agent

You can check how to complain if you’ve been discriminated against by your 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

You can check what to do if you’ve been discriminated against by 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:

If you’re being harassed online, you can get advice about protecting yourself on social media on the Police Scotland 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.

You can also report stalking on the Police Scotland 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

You can get help if you’ve experienced a hate crime or hate incident.

Reporting harassment to the police

If you're being harassed and you feel you're in danger, you should contact the police. You can contact them directly on the Police Scotland website or contact your local community team.

If someone has been threatening or abusive towards you, they can be charged with an offence after only 1 incident of that behaviour.

Going to court to stop harassment

If someone has harassed you more than once, you can apply to court to make them stop. The court can issue:

  • a non-harassment order
  • an order to make the person harassing you stay away from you - this is called an interdict

Depending on the circumstances, you might be able to ask for a non-harassment order to include a power of arrest.

If someone breaks a non-harassment order, they're committing an offence. They can be arrested immediately if the order included a power of arrest.

If someone breaches an interdict, you can report them to the police.

You can also apply to the court for compensation.

If you're thinking of applying to court, you should get help from a solicitor. Read more about using a solicitor.

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