How “purpose or reasonable effect” can affect workplace harassment cases

20th July 2023
Greasley-Adams v Royal Mail Group Limited

Harassment in the workplace has come under a spotlight in the last few years; from what we have seen, employers have also put their policies and practices under the spotlight to ensure they are doing all they can to eliminate it. However, given that harassment is based on personal perception, sadly it is not something that can be totally eradicated.

Under the Equality Act 2010 harassment is defined as follows:

A harasses B if A engages in unwanted conduct which had the purposes or reasonable effect of violating B’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.

The recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case of Greasley-Adams v Royal Mail Group Limited highlighted a key component to the test to determine if harassment has taken place, being whether the harassment has the “purpose or reasonable effect” of causing the hurt etc – which is the “perception”.

Mr Greasley-Adams had complaints brought against him by two colleagues, which were investigated.   During the investigation process, Mr Greasley-Adams was provided with statements his colleagues had made against him.  On becoming aware of what his colleagues had said against him, as a result of being provided with the investigation documentation, Mr Greasley-Adams brought a subsequent complaint for harassment against those colleagues.

The Tribunal found that the unwanted conduct complained of did not have the effect for it to amount to harassment. The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the Tribunal’s decision on the basis that if Mr Greasley-Adams had at the time no awareness off the conduct then he could have no perception of it. The EAT stated that if there is no awareness, there can be no perception.

Whether the acts an individual becomes aware of amount to harassment will depend on the facts of the case. In this instance, it was found that it was reasonable to expect that things would emerge which he may not like during the investigation and therefore could not have reasonable violated his dignity. This decision was fact-sensitive and therefore, it should be kept in mind that it is not to say that any revelations that appear during an investigation or via other means can never constitute harassment. It will depend on the perception and reasonableness of the effect the alleged conduct had.

Need to know more?

For more information on these changes or assistance with updating your policies or contracts, you can contact our Employment Client Services team here, or by calling the team 0344 2640102.

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