Harassment and bullying policy and procedures for staff

1. Policy Statement

1.1 Oxford Brookes University is committed to providing a working environment free from harassment and bullying and which supports the right of all staff to be treated with respect. The University recognises the damage that harassment and bullying can cause to the health and welfare of staff and the responsibilities which stem from the employer’s duty of care. The University will seek to ensure that all employees respect each other and work in harmony to achieve the aims and goals of the organisation.

1.2 This policy seeks to inform and guide good practice in promoting dignity at work. It is important that staff are aware of its contents and understand their rights and responsibilities in ensuring that the policy is observed.

1.3 The University will aim to provide the support needed for individuals to decide the most appropriate course of action if they feel they are being bullied or harassed, or have allegations of harassment or bullying made against them, and to resolve the issues raised. The procedures provide a framework for dealing with complaints confidentially and equitably and for resolving problems quickly and informally, without fear of victimisation or retaliation. This policy applies to all incidents or behaviour affecting the employees of the University arising from their employment by the University. Complaints involving the behaviour of external contractors or of students, as it affects employees in their work roles are included.

1.4 The University takes complaints of bullying or harassment seriously. Staff are expected to take appropriate action to ensure that such conduct does not occur. The University will deal quickly and positively with any complaints about breaches of this policy, which may include the use of disciplinary procedures or other appropriate actions.

1.5 The University will also take seriously any allegations proven to have been made maliciously. Complainants who make malicious allegations will be subject to disciplinary action.

1.6 Victimisation or retaliation as a result of action taken under this procedure will lead to disciplinary action. Victimisation may also be unlawful.

2. Definitions of Harassment and Bullying

2.1 Harassment is defined as behaviour where a person is subjected to unwanted conduct, which has the purpose (intentionally), or the effect (unintentionally) of violating that person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.

2.2 Harassment takes many forms, occurs on a variety of grounds and may be directed at one person or many people. It includes sexual and racial harassment and bullying as well as any other form of personal harassment arising from disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, identity or expression, socio-economic status, age, religion etc. It can be a single significant incident or repeated unacceptable behaviour.

2.3 It should be stressed that the intention of the perpetrator is not the key criterion in deciding whether harassment has occurred, but whether the behaviour in question is objectively disadvantageous for the individual to whom it is directed or that the actions or comments are viewed as demeaning and unacceptable by the recipient or the person subject to witnessing it and is not within the normal range of interpersonal behaviour at work.

2.4 Harassment is a form of discrimination, and is generally covered by legislation, including the Sex Discrimination Act, the Disability Discrimination Act, the Race Relations Act, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations and the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations.

2.5 Types of Harassment

The following list provides examples of types of harassment but is not exhaustive.

2.5.1 Sexual harassment

The inappropriate introduction of sexual comments or unwanted sexual attention or activities into working or living environments.

2.5.2 Racial Harassment

The inappropriate introduction of racially motivated comments or activities into working or living environments. It can involve a hostile or offensive act or expression by a person of one racial or ethnic origin against a person of another, or incitement to commit such an act.

2.5.3 Personal Harassment

The inappropriate introduction of comments or activities into working or living environments concerning an individual's disability, age, socio-economic group, sexual orientation, religion or any other form of personal victimisation.

2.5.4 Victimisation

Treating a member of staff unfavourably because:

  1. They have brought (or intend to bring) a case under the relevant legislation or this procedure
  2. They have given evidence in a legal case or case brought under this procedure
  3. They have alleged that discrimination or harassment has occurred

2.5.5 The following list provides a range of examples of harassment but is not exhaustive:

  1. Unlawful violence such as physical blows
  2. Unnecessary and unwanted physical contact ranging from touching to serious assault
  3. Indecent or sexual assault
  4. Sexual innuendo
  5. Unwelcome advances, attention, invitations or propositions
  6. Suggestive and unwelcome comments or attitudes, insulting behaviour or obscene or offensive gestures
  7. Unwelcome discussion of an individual’s sexuality or sexual orientation
  8. Publicising or threatening to publicise the sexuality or sexual orientation of an individual without their permission.
  9. Unwelcome discussion of an individual’s gender identity or expression.

  10. Publicising or threatening to publicise any details in relation to transsexual, transgender or gender diverse individuals without their permission.

  11. Staring and leering
  12. Verbal and written harassment, e.g. offensive letters, telephone calls or e-mails, racist remarks, taunts, offensive language or jokes, gossip and slander, threats, derogatory name calling or ridicule
  13. Visual displays of posters, graffiti, emblems or other offensive material such as pin-ups or degrading/indecent/pornographic material, racially offensive material
  14. Electronic transmission of pornographic, racist, degrading or indecent material
  15. Unwelcome or lewd references to a person’s physical features, figure or dress
  16. Unwelcome discussion of the effects of a disability on an individual’s personal life
  17. Intrusion by pestering, spying, following, stalking etc
  18. Isolation or non-co-operation at work, exclusion from social activities

2.6 Bullying

2.6.1 The University defines bullying in the following general terms for the purpose of this policy:, offensive, abusive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour and/or the abuse of power, and/or the imposition of unjustified sanctions, which has the effect of making the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer. As with harassment, it is the impact on the individual and not the intention of the perpetrator that determines whether bullying has taken place.

2.6.2 Bullying is most commonly associated with an abuse of power or authority. It most typically involves someone in a position of authority bullying someone in a subordinate position, but bullying of people in a more senior role by people in a subordinate position and between people in an equal position does occur.

2.6.3 The following list provides a range of examples of bullying behaviour but is not exhaustive:

  1. Isolation or non-co-operation at work, exclusion from social activities
  2. Persistently ignoring or patronising a person
  3. Shouting and/or sarcasm
  4. Public humiliation, derogatory or belittling remarks concerning job performance or personal attributes
  5. Constant unfounded criticism of the performance of work tasks
  6. Removing areas of job responsibility without good reason
  7. Allocation of demeaning and trivial tasks
  8. Setting impossible workloads and deadlines such that an individual has little chance of meeting them.
  9. A refusal to acknowledge individual’s contributions and achievements or to recognise their existence and value
  10. Overloading with work in an unreasonable manner, or having work taken away unreasonably and replaced with lower level tasks or with no work at all
  11. Credit for an individual’s work being taken or plagiarised by another person/people
  12. Setting unrealistic objectives, or changing objectives as individuals approach them.
3. The Impact of Harassment and Bullying

3.1 Harassment and Bullying:

  1. Are offensive and degrading
  2. Can have a very serious effect on an individual including anxiety, loss of concentration, illness and absence from work
  3. Can be unpredictable, irrational and sometimes unseen by others
  4. Can cause an individual to feel isolated and threatened, with possible implications for physical and mental health

3.2 Bullying and harassment are unacceptable on moral grounds and may, if unchecked or badly handled, create serious problems for an organisation including:

  1. Poor morale and poor employee relations
  2. Loss of respect for managers and supervisors
  3. Poor performance
  4. Lost productivity
  5. Higher turnover of staff
  6. Absence from work
  7. Damage to the University’s reputation
  8. Tribunal action

4. Responsibilities

4.1 Employees’ responsibilities

4.1.1 Every employee is expected to comply with the standards of behaviour established by the University in accordance with this policy. Staff are expected to ensure that their behaviour towards colleagues does not cause offence and could not in any way be considered to be bullying or harassment. Differences in culture, attitudes and experience, or the misinterpretation of social signals, can mean that what is perceived by the person experiencing the behaviour as harassment and/or bullying, may be perceived by others as inoffensive. It is important therefore to be sensitive to the feelings and reactions of others and to adjust behaviour as necessary.

4.1.2 Staff should discourage harassment and bullying by making it clear that they find such behaviour unacceptable and by supporting colleagues who experience such treatment. Anyone who witnesses behaviour that is defined as harassment or bullying has a responsibility to take action, as appropriate to the circumstances. Unresolved incidents of bullying or harassment should be raised with a manager or supervisor, one of the Harassment Advisers, a Union representative or the relevant Human Resources Manager.

4.2 Managers’ responsibilities

4.2.1 The University seeks to create a working environment that is free from harassment and bullying. Managers and supervisors are expected to act towards colleagues with whom they interface with respect and dignity. They should ensure that their staff act in a similar way and should correct any unacceptable behaviour promptly.

4.2.2 When dealing with alleged incidents of harassment and/or bullying managers should bear in mind that victims may sometimes appear to overreact to small issues which may be the “breaking point” following a series of incidents. They should also be aware that staff may fear retribution if they make a complaint and that other staff may be reluctant to come forward as witnesses, as they too may fear the consequences for themselves. They may be relieved not to be the subject of the bully or harasser themselves and may side with the bully as a way of avoiding attention.

4.2.3 Managers and supervisors should:

  1. Set a good example by treating all staff with dignity and respect.
  2. Explain and promote awareness of the University’s policy to staff and ensure that each member of staff has access to it.
  3. Understand and implement the policy and make every effort to ensure that harassment and bullying do not occur, particularly in the work areas for which they are responsible.
  4. Deal effectively with and resolve any incidents of harassment or bullying of which they are aware.
  5. Respond sensitively and supportively to any member of staff who makes an allegation of harassment by:
  • Providing clear advice on the procedure and timescales to be adopted
  • Maintaining confidentiality in accordance with this policy
  • Monitoring the work environment to ensure that there is no problem of bullying, harassment or victimisation after a complaint has been made.
  1. Be alert to unacceptable behaviour and take appropriate action. Managers do not have to wait until complaints are brought to their attention if they are aware of behaviour that might cause offence. If the incident is not serious then calling the individual aside and carrying out some “awareness raising” may be sufficient to stop the behaviour. In more serious cases disciplinary action may be appropriate.
  2. Ensure that staff know how to raise problems and are aware of procedures and of sources of help and advice available (e.g. the Directorate of Human Resources, Union representatives and harassment and bullying Advisers.

Throughout the application of this policy, it will be important to distinguish the legitimate management of staff from bullying and harassment. Managers have a right to issue reasonable instructions and expect them to be carried out. Managers should behave reasonably in all aspects of their management of people.

5. What to do if you think you’re being harassed or bullied

5.1.1 Harassment Advisers

  1. Anyone experiencing bullying or harassment who wishes to discuss the circumstances in confidence can contact the Directorate of Human Resources to obtain the list of advisers who have received training in dealing with this type of problem. Alternatively the list of advisers can be viewed from the Human Resources Intranet site.

  2. An adviser will listen in confidence to the complaint and help clarify what courses of action are possible. He/she will not normally attend meetings with third parties. An adviser will also be able to explain further about how the procedures work in practice, and to advise on the structure of a written complaint.
  3. An adviser will also provide impartial advice to employees who have been accused of bullying or harassment, including advice on the structure of a written response to a complaint.
  4. It would not be appropriate for the same adviser to advise the complainant and the person complained against.

5.1.2 Union Representatives

Union members who are raising a complaint, or have a complaint against them, can also talk confidentially to a representative of their trade union for advice and support. Trade union representatives can also accompany their members to meetings which may result from a complaint under the procedure

5.1.3 Support at meetings

A Union representative, or a friend or colleague who is employed by the University may accompany either party (or a witness) to meetings which may result from a complaint under these procedures.

5.2 Confidentiality

5.2.1 As a general principle, details of cases should be kept confidential. However where a manager believes that there is an unacceptable risk to the complainant, or to another person, or to the University, and action needs to be taken, it will be difficult to maintain absolute confidentiality. In such cases information will only be given to those who strictly need to know.

5.2.2 The decision as to whether a complaint should be progressed will normally rest with the complainant, except where there is an unacceptable risk, e.g. threats of violence or risk of damage to health. In such circumstances it will be necessary to take action under these procedures whether or not the complaint is in writing. If such action is necessary the complainant will be notified and kept informed.

5.2.3 If the complainant wishes to remain anonymous it may not be possible to take any action, although the University will seek to support all individuals in the resolution of genuine complaints and concerns. It may be possible to address such complaints through indirect methods e.g. training initiatives, awareness raising or publicising the Harassment and Bullying Policy. There is a need to balance individual confidentiality with the nature of the risk.

5.3 Time scales

Informal and formal complaints will be dealt with as quickly as possible. A time scale for dealing with each complaint will be agreed and the parties involved will be kept fully informed. It is advisable that issues are raised as soon as possible after the incident has happened because memories may fade. A lapse of time may mean it is unreasonable or difficult for a complaint to be pursued.

6. Complaints procedure

6.1 Making a complaint

6.1.1 Informal Complaints

Staff who feel they are being subjected to bullying or harassment may wish to deal with the issue on an informal basis. In this case staff should keep a record of relevant incidents so that they are clear about what happened, when, where, and whether anyone else was present. Staff can choose any of the following courses of action in these circumstances:

  1. Talk to the person who is bullying or harassing them. Tell them about the behaviour that is causing distress, and ask for it to stop. This should be done as soon as possible. In some cases, the person may be unaware that his/her behaviour is inappropriate or objectionable, or it may be that his/her words or actions have been misinterpreted. In such cases, the misunderstanding needs to be cleared up speedily. Even where the behaviour was intentional, a swift and clear indication that it is objectionable may prove sufficient to stop it.
  2. Discuss the matter with a colleague, their own line manager or a more senior manager, a trade union representative, a harassment adviser, or their link Human Resources Manager. Following this consultation, the member of staff may decide to take no further action.
  3. Ask a trade union representative or colleague to go with them to speak to the person.
  4. Write to the person against whom the complaint is being made and detail specifically what offends them and asking for this behaviour to stop. (The member of staff must keep a copy of the letter in case further action becomes necessary).
  5. Ask their manager or a more senior manager to take the matter up on their behalf.

NB Actions that managers will take in response to an informal complaint are set out in section 6.2 headed Action that will be taken by managers in response to a complaint.

6.1.2 Formal Complaints

If the problem cannot be resolved by taking informal action, or if it is of a more serious nature, staff can make a formal complaint through the following procedure:

  1. A formal complaint should be made in writing to the line manager, or to a more senior manager. A Harassment Adviser, a union representative, or the Directorate of Human Resources can be contacted for advice on preparing the complaint letter, if required.
  2. If the person being complained against is the line manager, the complaint should normally be made to their manager.
  3. If the person being complained against is the Dean of Faculty/Directorate then complaints should be addressed to the Director of Human Resources.
  4. The complaint should be signed and should contain the following details:
  • Who the complaint is being made against
  • When the incident(s) happened (date and time)
  • The nature of the incident and specific details
  • Where the incident happened
  • The names of any witnesses
  • Any action which has already been taken
  1. If the manager receiving the complaint has been involved with trying to resolve it informally a more senior manager should deal with the formal complaint (normally the manager’s line manager).
  2. Deans of Faculties/Directorates, where not involved in the investigation, will receive an annual summary of the number, nature and actions of all formal complaints under this procedure in their Faculties or Directorate.

6.1.3 Group Complaints

If several people are experiencing bullying or harassment from the same source, and wish to lodge a complaint as a group, they should nevertheless submit individual statements about their experience of the behaviour that is complained about. If a complaint is made against several people individual responses to complaints will be made. Outcomes of collective complaints will be advised to each individual on a personal basis.

6.2 Actions to be taken by managers in response to a complaint

A line manager receiving a complaint from an employee is expected to respond sensitively, and to provide advice about the procedures and the next stages that will be involved, and the time scale. The Directorate of Human Resources is available to give advice and support to both the manager and the employee. Every effort will be made to deal with the matter as quickly as possible.

6.2.1 Informal complaints

Where the employee seeks action from their line manager, it will follow these steps:

  1. Speak to the person against whom the informal complaint has been made, explaining the nature of the complaint, and who has made it. The person will be given the opportunity to respond (any written complaint or written response will be made available to both parties). If he/she acknowledges that the behaviour has taken place, the situation will be monitored to ensure that there is no reoccurrence. He/she will also be given a copy of this policy and advised of the procedure that would be followed if a formal complaint were to be made or if there were to be a reoccurrence of the behaviour.
  2. After separate discussions with the parties involved if it is clear that there are differing views and perceptions of the situation, a meeting of both parties and the manager may be appropriate. Where such a meeting does not lead to clarification or reconciliation, and the matter remains unresolved, the manager may consult any witnesses to clarify the situation. Where the manager decides that there is substance to the informal complaint, the person against who the complaint has been made will be asked to ensure that there is no reoccurrence. The situation will be monitored, support, guidance and counselling will be offered as appropriate.
  3. Mediation may be arranged though the Directorate of Human Resources if both parties agree.

NB If the person complained against has a different manager then his/her manager will also be involved in discussions. If he/she is an external customer or supplier of goods or services, the manager will decide the most appropriate course of action e.g. talking to the person and/or a senior member of staff of the external customer or supplier of goods or services.

6.2.2 Formal complaints

  1. Where a formal complaint is made against an employee, he/she will be given a copy of the Harassment and Bullying Policy and advised of the complaint and the complainant. If the complaint is in writing the person will be given details of the written complaint as soon as is reasonably possible. The person will be given the opportunity to state their case and to respond to a written complaint in writing. Any written response will be copied to the complainant.
  2. The manager concerned will consult the Directorate of Human Resources and agree the course of action to be taken. One of more of the following (taking into consideration the seriousness of the allegations) should be adopted:
  • Discuss with both parties separately or jointly with a view to reaching an agreed resolution.
  • Following initial discussions with both parties, and with their agreement, arrange mediation through the Directorate of Human Resources with a view to reaching an agreed resolution.
  • Arrange for an independent investigation to be carried out through the Directorate of Human Resources by a panel of two people. This is likely to be appropriate in more complex cases, where there are several people involved, or where there is no clear view of what has happened and/or where there are allegations of a serious nature which have the potential to lead to disciplinary action. The investigation panel should consist of at least two people at management level, who must not be from the same Faculty/Directorate as either party, and who are not connected in any way with the complaint that has been made. If the complainant or person complained against has evidence that a particular member of the panel may have a conflict of interests, consideration will be given to any objection raised. Guidance for the conduct of the panel will be provided by the Directorate of Human Resources. The panel will be responsible for investigating the complaint (setting the time scale in consultation with the parties) and will present its findings to the relevant Dean or Director and the Director of Human Resources. The Dean/Director as and Director of Human Resources will decide what suitable action should be taken which may include formal disciplinary action. Prior to action being taken there will be discussion with any union representatives involved. A copy of the report including any written statements by the parties and any witnesses will be provided to the parties to the complaint. Separate reports will be made in cases where there is more than one person complained about and/or more than one person making a complaint.
  • Following initial discussions with both parties and any witnesses, the manager may decide that there is sufficient evidence for formal disciplinary action to be taken under the appropriate procedures (the Dean of Faculty/Directorate, if not already involved in this decision, will be informed).
  • Where the complaint is serious, the manager may feel that it is appropriate to recommend to the Director of Human Resources that the person complained about is suspended on full pay pending an investigation.
    NB If the person complained against has a different manager from the complainant, then his/her manager will be involved in discussions. If he/she is an external customer or supplier of goods or services, the manager will decide the most appropriate course of action e.g. talking to the person and/or a senior member of staff of the external customer or supplier of goods or services, or raising the matter with the relevant Dean (for cases involving

6.3 Possible outcomes of a formal complaint

6.3.1 Possible outcomes of a formal complaint include:

  1. Commitment from the person complained against that the behaviour will stop, or that an action will not be repeated
  2. Misunderstandings clarified and resolved
  3. Resolution, e.g. through mediation
  4. Disciplinary action. Possible outcomes of disciplinary action include: an oral, written or final written warning; dismissal; or the complaint being dismissed.
  5. Training and advice for the person complained about relating to their role (e.g. awareness raising, counselling, mentoring, staff development, monitoring for a fixed period).
  6. Identification of institutional or Faculty/Directorate issues raised during an investigation.vii. Serious bullying or harassment will be treated as gross misconduct and could lead to prosecution for a criminal offence.

6.3.2 Both parties will be advised of the outcome, which will be confidential to the parties involved as far as possible.

6.3.3 Following disciplinary or formal action, where it is considered inappropriate for the parties to work in proximity to each other, the normal practice will be to try to relocate the person who was complained about. Unless a disciplinary authority has made a ruling to the contrary against the person about whom the complaint has been made, relocation will be on the same grade, salary and terms and conditions as applied before the disciplinary action. Depending on the seriousness of the issues involved, it may be appropriate for operational reasons to relocate the person who was the victim of the harassment/bullying behaviour.

6.3.4 Malicious complaints will be addressed through the appropriate disciplinary procedures against the complainant. Support, and counselling, may also be offered.

6.4 Appeals

6.4.1 If either party is dissatisfied with the outcome of a formal complaint (except where formal disciplinary action has been taken which includes a right of appeal,) an appeal may be made, in writing, to the Director of Human Resources, stating the grounds for the appeal, within 10 working days of confirmation of the decision.

6.4.2 An appeal will be heard by two governors of the University, who have not previously been involved in the complaint, and who are not members of the Faculty/Directorate of any party involved. The Governors hearing the appeal will determine whether the process was fair and the judgement reasonable in the circumstances. This decision will be final as far as the University’s internal procedures are concerned.

6.5 Recording of complaints

6.5.1 If the complaint is found to have no substance no records will be held on individual files, but a note of action taken will be kept confidentially within the Directorate of Human Resources for two years.

6.5.2 Correspondence relating to the action and the outcome will be held for two years where the manager/Dean of Faculty/Directorate finds that there is substance to a complaint, or where it is accepted by the person against whom the complaint has been made that there is substance to the complaint. Provided no further accusations of bullying or harassment have been made, and found to have substance, during this period, the record will then be destroyed.

6.5.3 Where it is not possible to decide whether there is any substance to the complaint, correspondence relating to action taken to review the case and any written statements will be held for two years in the Directorate of Human Resources. These records will not be re-opened unless there is a further complaint under the Harassment and Bullying Policy concerning the same individual within a two year period. In such circumstances the Director of Human Resources will inform the individual and a union representative (if requested by the individual) that the records are being re-opened, and will provide the individual with a copy of the record.

6.5.4 Where formal disciplinary action is taken, records will be held in accordance with the timescales in the relevant disciplinary procedures.

7. Monitoring

7.1 In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Bullying and Harassment Policy and Procedures, the University wishes to monitor the level and kinds of problems that occur. Managers, Harassment Advisers, members of staff from Human Resources, and union representatives who are approached by a member of staff who is experiencing bullying and harassment, will complete a monitoring form for this purpose, which will be returned to the Directorate of Human Resources for statistical analysis. The monitoring form will be anonymised – it will not contain the name of the complainant or the name of the person complained against.

As well as being a disciplinary offence for either staff or students, incidents of harassment may mean individuals are liable to prosecution in courts of law under either civil or criminal legislation. Nothing in this Policy will prevent members of staff from exercising their legal rights.