The Employment Appeal Tribunal has held that a Roman Catholic employee was not harassed when a colleague shouted out an expletive relating to the Pope across a newspaper’s busy newsroom.

What does this mean?

For a harassment claim to succeed it is necessary to show not only ‘unwanted conduct’, but that the conduct had the purpose or effect of violating the employee’s dignity or creating an adverse environment for him. Where the claim relates to an employee’s religion it is also necessary to show that the conduct was ‘on the grounds’ of the employee’s religion. The context in which offensive words are spoken is important in determining whether a harassment claim will succeed.

What should employers do?

Employers should have in place and apply a policy on harassment so that less serious incidents can be effectively addressed internally.

Heafield v Times Newspaper Limited