Who is protected from harassment on grounds of age?

All teachers and educational professionals have specific protection at work from harassment on grounds of age under the Equality Act 2010. You are protected whether the alleged harasser is older, younger or the same age as you. You are protected whether you are permanent, fixed-term, full-time, part-time, supply or agency.

Your colleagues, managers and governors are prohibited from harassing you. If you are an agency worker on a day-to-day or longer term contract, your agency and the hirers for whom you are working are prohibited from harassing you.

What about harassment by pupils, parents or visitors?

Your employer must take steps to prevent and deal with unlawful harassment at work by a third party who is not your employer or a colleague, such as a pupil or parent. Where third party harassment has occurred, your employer may be liable if it was aware that the harassment had taken place and it did not take reasonable steps to prevent it happening again. It is important that you report any harassment and that your employer records it.

What is harassment on grounds of age?

It is unwanted conduct, on grounds of age, which violates your dignity, or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you.

Harassment is unlawful whether it is on grounds of your actual age, your apparent age or even on grounds of the age of the people you associate with. Harassment can be on grounds that you are within an age range, for example, that you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s.

What sort of behaviour is covered?

Harassment on grounds of age would include hostile and intimidating behaviour by colleagues towards you because you are a young teacher. It could also include degrading or humiliating behaviour towards you because you are older than, and do not socialise with, your younger colleagues. The harassment itself does not have to make explicit reference to age but if the reason behind the harassment is age, then it will be unlawful.

Intimidating or degrading behaviour, such as graffiti, name-calling or offensive ageist ‘jokes’ by colleagues or pupils, could amount to harassment.

A single incident might constitute harassment if it is sufficiently serious. A series of incidents is likely to amount to harassment especially if you have given a clear indication that the behaviour is unwanted.

How do I know if I am being harassed on grounds of age?

An individual may or may not intend to be harassing you. What is important is the effect of their behaviour on you. The treatment might be on more than one ground, for example, your age and your disability. If you feel that you are being harassed, the NEU will help you consider the circumstances which gave rise to that belief and advise you accordingly.

What should I do if I think I am being harassed on grounds of age?

If you can, ask for the behaviour to stop.

Offensive pupil/student behaviour should be reported under the pupil/student behaviour or discipline procedure, or in writing to your head teacher or principal.

Gather all the written evidence that you have for example letters, emails, texts and relevant screenshots. Keep a diary of all incidents of unwanted conduct including dates, times, places, the names of any witnesses and your response to the conduct or behaviour.

Ask your workplace rep or school or college office for copies of harassment and bullying policies. The NEU urges all employers to adopt clear harassment and bullying policies, and procedures for dealing with workplace harassment fairly and quickly.

Discuss your concerns with your workplace rep. Your colleagues may have made similar complaints and you may be advised to tackle the issue with them collectively.

You or your rep might decide to contact the union for further advice. The NEU will be able to advise what steps you should take. You may be advised to deal with the matter informally, for example, by writing a letter to the individual asking for the behaviour to stop. You may be advised to lodge a collective grievance with your colleagues. Harassment is usually the symptom of a wider culture of dissatisfaction in a school or college, and it is likely that working together will prove to be more effective in empowering colleagues, raising morale and avoiding further harassment. This may resolve the issue. In rare cases you may be advised to take the matter to an employment tribunal.

The objective in all cases will be to stop the unwanted behaviour and allow you to continue working in a professional environment free from harassment. See NEU contact details at the end of this factsheet.

What if the discrimination or harassment has made me ill?

Follow the advice in the previous answer on gathering information and seeking advice. Keep a record of how you believe discriminatory treatment or harassment has affected your health, eg your symptoms and any absences from work. You are advised to see your GP and to let your employer know in writing that the treatment at work is affecting your health. The union can help you write this letter. If you believe that the stress of discrimination or harassment at work has led to depression, an anxiety disorder or psychosis, you may be suffering from a recognised psychiatric illness. If so, you should seek immediate advice from the union – see contact details at the end of this factsheet.

What should my employer do if I complain about harassment?

Your employer or agency should investigate your complaint, stop any unwanted conduct and take appropriate action to prevent it from happening again to you or someone else. Employers in the education sector should comply with the public sector equality duty to eliminate discrimination and harassment and to advance equality.

What if I am afraid that the behaviour will get worse?

The answer is to act promptly. Informal steps may resolve the matter quickly with minimum disruption. On the other hand, taking formal steps together with your colleagues may be necessary. The union will be able to advise you.

You should contact your workplace rep if you are subjected to detrimental treatment in retaliation or as punishment for raising a complaint of harassment. This is called 'victimisation' and is prohibited by the Equality Act.

What more can I do to protect myself and colleagues from harassment at work?

Employers in the education sector have a statutory duty to be proactive in eliminating discriminatory harassment and advancing equality of opportunity for staff and pupils. They must assess the impact of their policies and procedures on the people affected by them and be prepared to revise procedures where it is proportionate to do so. Contact your workplace rep, branch secretary or local equality officer if you want to get involved in reviewing the equality impact of policies and procedures in your workplace.

Make sure that you receive information about NEU equality events and conferences and about the equality constituency seat elections for the national executive. If you have not told the union about your sexual orientation, trans status, ethnicity or disability status, you may miss out on important information. Update your membership details to ensure you are fully informed. The information that you provide will remain strictly confidential. The data will form the basis of anonymous statistical reports which will help identify trends in workplaces and barriers to participation in the union's structures.

You are not alone in this union

When you read through this document you may have questions about what happens in your particular school or workplace, and there may be collective issues that affect other members. In most circumstances, you should initially discuss the matter with your workplace rep, as they will know whether similar concerns have been raised by other members. If you do not have a rep at the moment, it would be a good idea to get members together to elect one. Further advice on this is available at: neu.org.uk/becoming-a-rep

Although you may sometimes feel that you are the only person affected by or concerned about a particular issue, in reality this is seldom the case. Any difficulties you may experience are likely to be linked to wider conditions at your workplace and as a member of the NEU you have the advantage of being able to act collectively with your colleagues. This should give you the confidence of knowing that you have the weight of the union behind you.

Further information

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
Guidance on age equality

Trades Union Congress (TUC)
Guidance on age equality

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
Guidance on age discrimination