Home » Disability equality law » Types of discrimination » Harassment


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Last updated 15th February 2017.

Bullying and other forms of harassment relating to disability are made unlawful by the Equality Act 2010.

Harassment is not technically ‘discrimination’ as defined in the Equality Act. However, the Equality Act makes harassment unlawful as well as discrimination.

Harassment is widely defined. It is where a person (A) engages in unwanted conduct related to a disability and the conduct has the purpose or effect of
(a) violating another person’s (B’s) dignity, or
(b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.

This definition of ‘harassment’ is discussed in the context of employment at Harassment of employees , but also applies to other areas covered by the Equality Act, such as provision of services and education.

B v John Edward Crowther Ltd (2002), Employment Tribunal
A dyehouse worker suffered ongoing abuse from colleagues related to his stammer. They often laughed and pulled faces at him (he sometimes contorted his face trying to get words out). They made grunting sounds when he was in the vicinity. An operative said for example: “why don’t you do us all a favour and f**k off you stuttering twat.” The tribunal held the employer was liable for discrimination.
At that time there was no separate legal claim for harassment. Nowadays the employer would be liable for harassment.

News report: Coffee shop mocks stammer on customer’s cup (January 2017)
Starbucks asks a customer’s name when he or she orders a drink, and writes it on the cup. In this particular case, when the customer stammered on his name the barista allegedly wrote RRR…ichard on the cup. The customer found this extremely offensive and humiliating. He complained on the Starbucks Facebook page. The barista was suspended pending disciplinary action, and Starbucks apologised to the customer.
This is likely to be harassment. More, including links to news reports: Examples on stammering: Services and public functions.

Case study: helpline laughing and saying ‘You can talk perfectly well if you want to’
A person who stammers rang a public helpline. The lady at the other end laughed at her as she was trying to speak. When the caller said that wasn’t acceptable, the lady replied: “You see, you can talk perfectly well when you want to!” The caller wrote to the helpline who responded excellently. They listened to their tape of the conversation and the lady was taken off the helpline for re-training. They also contacted the British Stammering Association for information to help them build stammering into their general training courses for helpline staff.
This did not go to court, but is likely to be harassment under the Equality Act 2010.

Beyond the areas covered by the EqA

Equality Act 2010 makes harassment (as defined in s.26) unlawful only in the areas covered by the Act, for example employment or provision of services.

People with disabilites can also suffer harassment by members of the public – eg by acquaintances, or in the street – outside the scope of the Equality Act. On this, see Disability hate crimes (link to citizensadvice.org.uk).