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Durham University

Human Resources & Organisational Development

Respect at Work: Harassment and Bullying Policy and Procedures for Staff

1. Scope and Purpose

1.1 This policy relates to all staff. It has been written to support the development of a working environment in which harassment, discrimination and bullying are known to be unacceptable and where individuals have the confidence to complain, without fear of reprisals, in the knowledge that their concerns will be dealt with appropriately and fairly.

1.2 This policy outlines the procedures to be followed by any member of staff who feels they are being harassed, discriminated against or bullied in the course of their employment, be that by another member of staff, a visitor, contractor or a student.

1.3 For the purpose of this document, ‘during the course of employment’ includes activities, occasions or events that are connected to work and the workplace but may not necessarily take place in the workplace or during normal working hours.

2. Durham University’s Commitment

2.1. Durham University is fully committed to the development of positive policies and procedures to eliminate discrimination and actively promote equality of opportunity for our staff and students. We believe that where respect for diversity and equality of opportunity exists, all staff and students work in a more rewarding and less stressful environment; one where discrimination, prejudice and harassment are not accepted, and one more likely to enhance performance and achievement, allowing all members of our University community to fully utilise their skills and talents and achieve their full potential.

2.2 Any allegation of harassment, discrimination or bullying will be treated very seriously and, if proven, may result in disciplinary action being taken against the perpetrator.

2.3 Any individual who is proven to have made a vexatious or malicious claim of harassment, discrimination or bullying with be dealt with in accordance with the University’s Disciplinary Procedure. This could lead to dismissal.

3. Roles and Responsibilities

3.1. It is the responsibility of every member of our University community to help us achieve an inclusive and supportive environment, and to promote good relations between groups by being tolerant and having respect for diversity.

3.2. Managers have the responsibility to ensure that harassment, discrimination and bullying is not permitted within their sphere of management, and that incidents arising are dealt with firmly and fairly. Complaints should be taken seriously and investigations carried out in line with University procedure.

3.3. All members of staff have a personal responsibility to ensure their own conduct does not cause offence. Issues of harassment, discrimination or bullying should be raised in a timely manner in order that any investigation is carried out at the earliest opportunity.

4. Definitions of Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying

4.1 Harassment

4.1.1 Harassment is unwanted conduct which adversely affects the dignity of individuals in the workplace. It may be persistent or a single isolated incident. The key is that the actions or comments are viewed as hostile or intimidating, demeaning and unacceptable to the recipient. Employees can also complain of behaviour that they find offensive even if it is not directed at them, but at another member of staff.

4.1.2 Harassment may have either the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.[1]

4.2 Discrimination

4.2.1 Discrimination takes place when an individual or a group of people is treated less favourably than others because of their race, gender, gender reassignment, marital status, status as a civil partner, disability, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation or other factors unrelated to their ability or potential.

4.3 Bullying

4.3.1 Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.[2] While bullying and harassment are related, bullying is usually intentional.

4.4 It is recognised that differences in attitude, background and culture can often mean that what is perceived by one individual as harassment or bullying may not necessarily be perceived in the same way by another. It should be noted therefore, that when deciding whether bullying or harassment has occurred, the impact on the individual and whether the behaviour is unacceptable by normal standards will be the focus, rather than motive or intent.

5. Examples

5.1 Harassment, discrimination or bullying can be verbal and non-verbal. The following provides examples but is not an exhaustive list.

- Verbal abuse

- Insulting behaviour or personal insults

- Sexist jokes, racist jokes, or jokes about an individual's sexual orientation, disability, religion or belief or age

- Behaviour which incites racial hatred, e.g. wearing racist insignia or badges

- Offensive written or computer generated material, including the use of email

- Unreasonable, unfair or offensive expectations about an individual's disabilities or mischievous interference with personal aids or equipment

- Unwanted physical contact ranging from touching to serious assault

- Leering and offensive gestures

- Display or circulation of sexually suggestive or racially abusive material

- Coercive or menacing behaviour which interferes with dignity and privacy or which undermines an individual's self-confidence

- Asserting a position of seniority in an aggressive, abusive or offensive manner e.g. inappropriate or derogatory remark in connection with performance of duties / responsibilities.

- Withholding important work-related information

- Intrusion by pestering, spying and stalking.

- Ridicule, isolation or non-cooperation, exclusion from everyday social interaction or activities

5.2 Any difficulty in defining harassment, discrimination or bullying should not deter a member of staff from seeking support or complaining of behaviour which causes them distress. They should also not be deterred because of embarrassment or fear of intimidation.

5.3 The University will respect the particular sensitivity of complaints of harassment, discrimination or bullying, and their consequences, and will treat any complaint with the utmost confidentiality and in line with the provisions of the Data Protection Act. Complaints will not normally be taken further than the complainant wishes.

6. Advice and Support

6.1. The University provides a range of support for both staff and students who feel they have been subject to harassment, discrimination or bullying. It is recommended that staff seek advice and support in the first instance. This can be done in a number of ways:

6.1.1. Harassment Contacts Network

The University operates a network of Harassment Contacts who can be approached by both staff and students. The Harassment Contacts are there to listen and support, and explain the options available. A list of Harassment Contacts is available.

6.1.2. Occupational Health

The Occupational Health Adviser is part of the University’s Human Resources team. In operating as part of that team the Occupational Health Adviser adheres to the general philosophies of Occupational Health including:-

- To maintain an autonomous role within the University and provide an accessible, confidential service for all staff.

- To promote and maintain the physical, psychological and social well-being of all staff.

7. Procedures for making a complaint about Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying

7.1 Principles

7.1.1. Staff should raise complaints of harassment, discrimination or bullying in a timely manner and without unreasonable delay. Unless incidents of harassment, discrimination or bullying are notified within a reasonable length of time, the University may find itself unable to adequately investigate and take steps to prevent or eliminate harassment, discrimination or bullying.

7.1.2. All parties involved should act in good faith to seek a successful resolution of the complaint at as early a stage as possible.

7.1.3. All parties will be treated fairly, consistently and with respect.

7.1.4. A member of staff raising a complaint under this procedure has the right to have the complaint investigated and handled appropriately and meetings, decisions and confirmation of decisions will not be unreasonably delayed.

7.1.5. The individual or individuals against whom the complaint is made has the right to respond to the allegations.

7.1.6. Every effort should be made to resolve complaints informally or at the early formal stages of the procedure.

7.1.7. Use of a third party to help resolve the problem, whether internal or external, may be considered where appropriate.

7.1.8. It is not possible, unless the circumstances are exceptional, for a complaint to be investigated if the complainant does not wish for the individual against whom the complaint is being made to be informed.

7.1.9. A malicious or vexatious complaint may give rise to disciplinary proceedings.

7.2 Informal Stage

7.2.1 Informal Stage One The member of staff should discuss the matter with a trusted colleague; one of the University’s designated Harassment Contacts, a trade union representative. It may be helpful for you to keep a note of the details of any relevant incidents which cause offence, including dates, times and the names of any witnesses; and any relevant emails, notes etc.

7.2.2 Often, people are unaware that their behaviour is perceived as harassment, discrimination or bullying. In some cases speaking to, or writing a letter to, the person concerned to let them know their behaviour is unacceptable to you, can be sufficient to remedy the situation. A copy of any correspondence should always be kept. If this is not the case, or if the harassment, discrimination or bullying is of a more serious nature, a more formal approach may be appropriate.

7.2.3 Informal Stage Two Alternatively, and if appropriate, speak or write to your Head of Department or line manager and ask that they speak to the person concerned.

7.2.4 If these steps fail to resolve the matter, you may request an informal investigation to be carried out by your Head of Department or line manager who may take advice from a representative from the HR department.

7.2.5 In the event that the complaint is against the Head of Department or line manager, you should arrange to see an HR representative who will agree how the matter might be taken forward informally. Please see for details of HR representatives.

7.2.6 In the event that the complaint is against a student, you should write to the Director of Student Support and Wellbeing providing as much information as possible of the events complained of, and a clear indication of the outcome you seek. The Director of Student Support and Wellbeing will acknowledge receipt of the complaint and will determine how the matter might be taken forward.

7.2.7 There is no right to representation at informal meetings, but the member of staff may be accompanied by a work colleague, University harassment contact or trade union representative if he/she wishes.

7.2.8 The Head of Department or line manager and HR representative will meet with the individual against whom the complaint is made to advise him/her of the allegations and invite a response.

7.2.9 If appropriate, the HR representative may set up a meeting with both parties with the aim of facilitating a discussion and reaching a resolution. This may include the use of qualified workplace mediators.

7.2.10 The outcomes of the informal stage may include:

- Complaint not founded

- Situation mutually resolved

- Complaint founded

7.2.11 Where a complaint is founded, and where appropriate, action short of disciplinary action may be considered to offer a more suitable resolution. This may include one or more of the following:

- The person against whom the complaint was made offering a written apology

- The person against whom the complaint was made undertaking additional training or receiving personal counselling

7.3 Formal Stage

7.3.1 In the case of complaints regarding members of staff, where the informal approach is unsuccessful, or if you wish to move straight to a formal stage the appropriate Grievance Regulation should be followed. Please see for details of the University Grievance Regulations.

7.3.2 Members of staff should contact their nominated Faculty/Department HR representative for information about the correct Grievance Regulations to be followed. Please see for details of HR representatives.

7.3.3 In the case of complaints regarding students the formal stages of the Student Harassment and Bullying policy should be followed.

8. Related Policies and Procedures

8.1 The University has policies in place to address related matters:

- Conflicts of Interest and Personal Relationships at Work. Please see for details.

- The Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech Relating to Meetings or Other Activities on University Premises. Please see for details.

9. Review

The University will monitor all reported incidents of harassment, discrimination and bullying and will review the effectiveness of this policy regularly.

Updated: January 2015


[1] ACAS (2011) The Equality Act – what’s new for employers? [online]

[1] ACAS. (2009) Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers. London: Acas. Available at: