University Policy and Procedure on Harassment

Approved by Council on 1 December 2014.

Introduction

1. The University does not tolerate any form of harassment or victimisation and expects all members of the University community, its visitors and contractors to treat each other with respect, courtesy and consideration.

2. The University is committed to fostering an inclusive culture which promotes equality, values diversity and maintains a working, learning and social environment in which the rights and dignity of all members of the University community are respected.

3. The aims of the University as reflected in this Policy are to:

a. Promote a positive environment in which people are treated fairly and with respect;

b. Make it clear that harassment is unacceptable and that all members of the University have a role to play in creating an environment free from harassment;

c. Provide a framework of support for staff and students who feel they have been subject to harassment; and

d. Provide a mechanism by which complaints can wherever possible be addressed in a timely way.

4. Those in positions of authority, such as heads of division, heads of department, chairs of faculty boards and their equivalents, have formal responsibilities under this Policy and are expected to familiarise themselves with the Policy and Procedures on appointment. All heads of department and equivalent, and all other managers, have a duty to implement this Policy and to make every effort to ensure that harassment and victimisation do not occur
in the areas of work for which they are responsible and, that if they do occur, any concerns are investigated promptly and effectively.

5. All members of the University community have the right to expect professional behaviour from others, and a corresponding responsibility to behave professionally towards others. All members of the University community have a personal responsibility for complying with this Policy and Procedure and must comply with and demonstrate active commitment to this Policy by:

a. Treating others with dignity and respect.

b. Discouraging any form of harassment by making it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable.

c. Supporting any member of the University who feels they have been subject to harassment, including supporting them to make a formal complaint if appropriate.

Definitions

6. A person subjects another to harassment where s/he [1] engages in unwanted and unwarranted conduct which has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating another person’s dignity, or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for another person. [2]

The recipient does not need to have explicitly stated that the behaviour was unwanted.

7. Freedom of speech and academic freedom are protected by law though these rights must be exercised within the law. Vigorous academic debate will not amount to harassment when it is conducted respectfully and without violating the dignity of others or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. [3]

8. Bullying is a form of harassment and may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.

9. The University seeks to protect any member of the University community from victimisation, which is a form of misconduct which may itself result in a disciplinary process. The University will regard as victimisation any instance where a person is subjected to detrimental treatment because s/he has, in good faith:

  • made an allegation of harassment, or
  • indicated an intention to make such an allegation, or
  • assisted or supported another person in bringing forward such an allegation, or
  • participated in an investigation of a complaint, or
  • participated in any disciplinary hearing arising from an investigation, or
  • taken any other steps in connection with this Policy and Procedure, or
  • is suspected of having done so.

Behaviours

10. Harassment may involve repeated forms of unwanted and unwarranted behaviour, but a one-off incident can also amount to harassment.

11. The intentions of the alleged harasser are not always determinative of whether harassment has taken place. The perception of the complainant and the extent to which that perception is in all the circumstances reasonable will also be relevant.

12. Being under the influence of alcohol, drugs or otherwise intoxicated is not an excuse for harassment.

13. Harassment can take a variety of forms:

  • Through individual behaviour
    • face to face, either verbally or physically
    • through other forms of communication, including but not limited to, written communications and communications via any form of electronic media or mobile communications device: such behaviour may also amount to a breach of the University’s Regulations Relating to the use of Information Technology Facilities [4]
    • directly to the person concerned, or to a third party
  • Through a prevailing workplace or study environment which creates a culture which tolerates harassment or bullying, for example the telling of homophobic or racist jokes.

14. Examples of behaviour which may amount to harassment under this Policy include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • unwanted physical contact, ranging from an invasion of space to an assault, including all forms of sexual harassment, including:   
    i.       inappropriate body language
    ii.       sexually explicit remarks or innuendoes
    iii.       unwanted sexual advances and touching
  • offensive comments or body language, including insults, jokes or gestures and malicious rumours open hostility, verbal or physical threats
  • insulting, abusive, embarrassing or patronising behaviour or comments, humiliating, intimidating, and/or demeaning criticism
  • persistently shouting at, insulting, threatening, disparaging or intimidating an individual
  • constantly criticising an individual without providing constructive support to address any performance concerns
  • persistently overloading an individual with work that s/he cannot reasonably be expected to complete
  • posting offensive comments on electronic media, including using mobile communication devices
  • threatening to disclose, or disclosing, a person’s sexuality or disability to others without their permission
  • deliberately using the wrong name or pronoun in relation to a transgender person, or persistently referring to their gender identity history
  • isolation from normal work or study place, conversations, or social events
  • publishing, circulating or displaying pornographic, racist, homophobic, sexually suggestive or otherwise offensive pictures or other materials.

15. Stalking may also be a form of harassment and may be characterised by any of the following repeated and unwanted behaviours:

  • Following a person;
  • Contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means;
  • Publishing any statement or other material –
    • Relating or purporting to relate to a person, or
    • Purporting to originate from a person;
  • Monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication;
  • Loitering in any place (whether public or private);
  • Interfering with any property in the possession of a person;
  • Watching or spying on a person including through the use of CCTV or electronic surveillance.

Application of the Policy

16. Harassment is a serious offence. Any member of the University community who feels s/he has been subject to harassment can make a complaint via the appropriate Procedure: see Annexe A for the Procedure in relation to complaints about staff; and Annexe B for the Procedure in relation to complaints about students.

17. When a criminal offence may have been committed, the relevant harassment Procedure may not be appropriate. These cases will include, but not be limited to, serious assault or threat of serious assault. Student members can seek advice from the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office and /or approach the Police directly; and staff members can seek advice from the Director of Human Resources and/or approach the Police directly. Further guidance on dealing with cases of sexual assault or sexual violence is available at Guidance for staff on handling cases of sexual assault or sexual violence.

18. Incidents of harassment that occur within the college environment will normally be dealt with under appropriate college procedures, while reflecting the principles of this Policy.

19. Any member of the University community who feels s/he has been subject to harassment can contact the Harassment Advisory Service, or their local harassment advisor, for support. The Service is also available to those against whom an allegation of harassment has been made. Other sources of help and advice can be found at: www.admin.ox.ac.uk/eop/harassmentadvice.shtml

20. If a complainant is deemed to have known or to have reasonably been expected to know that a complaint was unfounded, the allegation of harassment may be judged to be vexatious or malicious, and disciplinary action may be taken against them. No action will be taken if a complaint which proves to be unfounded is judged to have been made in good faith.

21. All parties involved in a complaint (including any witnesses who may be interviewed as part of any investigation, or trade union representatives supporting any of the parties) should maintain the confidentiality of the process. Those involved in advising complainants should, where possible, seek the consent of the individual for the onward disclosure of relevant information to those with a clear need to know. Where such consent is not forthcoming, the person entrusted with the information should make it clear that, in exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to disclose the information, taking account of the duty of care which may be owed to the individual and/or others.

22. This Policy and Procedure may be found at www.admin.ox.ac.uk/eop/harassmentadvice or are available in hard copy from the Equality and Diversity Unit: tel. 01865 (2)89825 or email equality@admin.ox.ac.uk. Copies in alternative formats are available on request.

23. This Policy and Procedure will be subject to regular review by the General Purposes Committee of Council in consultation with the Education and Personnel Committees, the Proctors, and any other appropriate committees.


  1. Although s/he is used in this document, the University acknowledges that some people do not identify with binary genders and prefer to use other pronouns.
  2. NOTE: Reference to the revised Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech to be made here when that is finalised

Procedures

Annexe A: Complaints of harassment against University staff – the Staff Procedure

Annexe B: Complaints of harassment against students - the Student Procedure

Guidance for staff on handling cases of sexual assault or sexual violence