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What is harassment?

It is harassment if someone is humiliated, belittled or even threatened because of their family commitments, gender, nationality, colour, religion, beliefs, age, disability or sexual orientation. Harassment is a form of direct discrimination and is prohibited by law. Harassment is defined in law as conduct that is unwanted by the harassed person, which degrades their dignity and creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive atmosphere (subsection 3 (3) of the Equal Treatment Act). Harassment can take place among colleagues, between a manager and a subordinate, or in an employee’s relations with clients.

Harassment mostly occurs because the harasser does not respect the other person, does not understand their situation, wants to humiliate them or considers them inferior because of some inherent characteristic. For example, harassment is reprimanding and belittling an employee “too often” because of a sick child or partner.
In the case of harassment, it’s essential that the harassed person has perceived certain behaviour as disturbing or hostile. The subjective opinion of the harasser or their intentions are not important. For example, if the harasser claims that they were only joking, this doesn’t justify their actions or release them from responsibility.
Harassment can take the form of verbal or non-verbal, physical or psychological attacks, or it can take the form of silent actions such as social exclusion. Harassment may occur in the form of isolated incidents as well as repeated acts.

In the workplace, harassing behaviour can include, for example, harassing jokes and remarks, demeaning comments, threats, mockery, unjustified criticism. Behaviour in the workplace is considered harassment and unacceptable if it’s carried out in a way that creates a hostile or offensive working environment for another person.

To enable people to work together, it would be good if the general atmosphere in the workplace was conducive to getting the job done in the best possible way. This requires employees to treat each other with respect.

Harassment in the workplace can cause a lot of stress to the harassed person, leading to poor performance or absence from work. Thus, it’s important to prevent harassment as well as effectively resolve incidents at the workplace. Preventing harassment requires explaining to employees what harassment is and how to recognise it.

Employers must also inform employees of their rights and obligations in relation to equal treatment (clause 12 1) of the Equal Treatment Act). The employer must establish the work organisation rules and make them known to every employee (clause 5 (1) 11) of the Employment Contract Act). It’s advisable to set out clear instructions and guidelines for employees in the work organisation rules, to ensure that when people interact in the workplace, they follow certain rules of conduct and courtesy that protect employees from harassment. Employees need to know what is allowed and what behaviour is forbidden in the workplace.
If harassment has already taken place, it’s important to intervene as early as possible to stop it and help the victim.

This explanation does not constitute legal aid in a specific case. Therefore, if you feel that you have been treated unequally, but you did not find a solution to your problem in this article, or if you have a question, please contact the Equality Commissioner by e-mail at avaldus@volinik.ee or telephone +372 626 9059. The anonymity of the person is guaranteed when contacting the Commissioner.