Frequently Asked Questions
What is harassment?
Harassment is unwanted or unwelcome behaviour which is meant to, or has the effect of, either:
- violating your dignity, or
- creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
Harassment by someone at work is unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act if it’s because of, or related to:
- gender reassignment
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation.
The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.
What is sexual misconduct?
Sexual misconduct is a form of sexual harassment and is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:
- violates your dignity
- makes you feel intimidated, degraded, or humiliated
- creates a hostile or offensive environment.
You don’t need to have previously objected to someone's behaviour for it to be considered unwanted.
Examples of sexual misconduct include unwanted sexual remarks, groping, or serious sexual harassment such as rape and sexual assault.
Why has sexual misconduct been included in this policy?
Universities UK (UUK) require us to have either a stand-alone policy or to integrate sexual misconduct into our existing policy. We decided to integrate it into our bullying and harassment policy.
What is the difference between bullying and harassment?
In everyday language, bullying and harassment can be used almost interchangeably but in law harassment refers to unwanted behaviour relating to a specific set of protected characteristics:
- gender reassignment
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation.
The Equality Act 2010, features victimisation and harassment while 'bullying' doesn't feature as a legal term at all but we do not want bullying within the University so have included it in our policy.
What is victimisation?
Victimisation broadly refers to bad treatment directed towards someone who has made or is believed to have made or supported a complaint under the Equality Act.
It includes situations where a complaint hasn't yet been made but someone is victimised because it's suspected they might make one.
What should I do if I feel I have been bullied or harassed or subject to sexual misconduct?
- In the first instance you can raise your concern with your line manager or with the HR Team. If you don't feel you can speak to your line manager then it would be best to speak to their manager or your HR Advisor.
- Alternatively you may feel that you are able to talk or write to the perpetrator explaining how they are making you feel and asking them to stop.
- You should keep your own written record of each incident of bullying/ harassment including what happened and the time & date.
- If you feel that you have been unable to resolve the matter informally or feel unable to deal with the matter informally you should move to the formal stages of the Bullying, Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy and put your complaint in writing on a grievance form to your line manager or the HR Team giving details of any incidents, names, dates, times and witnesses (if any) of the alleged unacceptable behaviour. You could also detail any informal measures you have already taken to try and resolve the matter.
- The matter will be dealt with under the formal stages of the procedure.
- You may also seek advice from your trade union. The Employee Assistance Programme is also a confidential service available to you for support 24/7 Tel: 0800 1116 387
What does zero tolerance mean?
This means any instance of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct will be investigated and where necessary disciplinary sanctions imposed so that our staff, students and visitors can enjoy an environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
Zero tolerance aims to eliminate undesirable behaviour among staff and students and means that if bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct has occurred, action will be taken.
Is it ok to ask a colleague out on a date?
A colleague can another colleague on a date but if the answer is no or ambiguous then it is not fine to repeat asking them. That is when it can turn into harassment.
If there is a power relationship (for example a member of staff and a student or a senior member of staff and a member of their team) then it is important that any ongoing relationship is disclosed to a senior manager so that professional boundaries can be established to protect both parties. For example a lecturer should not be marking exam scripts of a student they are dating and a senior manager cannot oversee a salary decision or promotion case for someone they are having a relationship with so in all cases where there is potential for a conflict of interest, the relationship should be disclosed to the relevant senior manager.
Is it ok to have banter in the team?
Banter defined as playful and friendly exchange of remarks between colleagues is fine as long as it doesn’t include poking fun at the expense of a colleague to make everyone else laugh, that is when it turns into bullying and needs to stop. Third parties can also complain about comments even if they weren’t directly involved in the conversation. Comments related to one of the protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 i.e. age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex (gender), sexual orientation are likely to be considered harassment / bullying and should not be made.
Is it ok to compliment a colleague on their appearance?
It is fine to tell a colleague that you like their new haircut, for example, but we should be aware that some comments about appearance can embarrass or even offend people and we need to err on the side of caution, particularly with people we don’t know well. Respect is key and it may be good to reflect on whether we would compliment a female colleague in the same way we would a man or vice versa.
Is it ok to socialise with students as a member of staff?
Staff can socialise with students in an appropriate context such as a departmental BBQ or drinks after a field trip but it is important to remember that even when you are outside work you still need act professionally at all times in their relationships with students. The staff-student relationship is not equal, which means there is always an inherent power imbalance and these boundaries are breached when a member of staff misuses the power imbalance in such a way that the student’s welfare is compromised.
Where can I access help as a member of staff?
Your line manager, HR advisor or trade union representative are available within the University. You can also contact the Employee Assistance Programme, available 24/7 on Tel: 0800 1116 387.
If I witness a colleague or student being bullied or harassed what should I do?
Report the situation to your line manager or HR Advisor, providing a written statement of what you observed if possible. They will take it forward with the appropriate department.
I have been accused of bullying/harassing a colleague, who can I talk to?
Your line manager, HR advisor or trade union representative are available within the University. You can also contact the Employee Assistance Programme, available externally 24/7 on Tel: 0800 1116 387.
Finally thanks to the three trade unions (Unite, UCU and Unison) who worked alongside HR to produce the updated policy and the willing volunteers who appeared in the video.