Dealing with verbal harassment

Spoken words, banter, social media posts, jokes and pranks can all constitute harassment – a form of discrimination – if they relate to your autism.

Broadly speaking, such actions will constitute harassment if:

  • they were carried out for the purpose of violating your dignity and/or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating environment for you; or
  • the effect of these actions was to violate your dignity or create a hostile, intimidating, degrading or humiliating environment for you.

For the purposes of the law, if you can prove the former you will not need to prove that it was reasonable for you to have felt offended or harassed by your colleague’s actions. Whether or not your reaction was a reasonable one will not be considered

If, however, you cannot prove that the unwanted conduct was intended violate your dignity or create a hostile environment, a tribunal will need to consider all of the factors of the case. These factors include your personal circumstances, the circumstances in which the offensive action took place, what the intentions of the offending party were and whether the employer has taken any steps to deal with and improve the situation.

If you feel you have been harassed by a colleague, your first step should be to contact your employer and inform them of the problem

You should also ask them what systems they have in place and steps they have taken to prevent such harassment from taking place in the first place. Your employer, in general, is responsible for the conduct of your colleagues. If your employer does not take adequate steps to deal with the complaint, they will fall foul of the Equality Act 2010.

If it turns out that your employer has received such complaints before but not dealt with them adequately and/or does not have an appropriate equal opportunities policy in place you may be able to hold them responsible for the harassment you have faced. Their failures will constitute a form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Your next steps will be to either file a grievance, report the matter to ACAS or commence proceedings in the Employment Tribunal.

* See also our guidance for employers on looking out for bullying in our section on addressing concerns, and further information on discrimination