Who are the Harassment Advisers?
Harassment Advisers are trained, volunteer members of staff for the benefit of the University community.
Harassment Advisers have volunteered their own time to the programme and are dedicated to making the University a safe and productive environment in which to work, study and visit.
Service users can select whichever Harassment Adviser they consider to be most appropriate, although it is strongly recommended that the Advisers based in their own or the Alleged Harassers department are not selected to avoid potential conflict of interests.
Occasionally, a Harassment Adviser may need to refer service users to another colleague on the panel. This may be due to personal commitments, a potential conflict of interest or because another Adviser is better equipped to assist with the particular issue.
The Harassment Advisers:
Who can a Harassment Adviser assist?
Harassment Advisers are dedicated to making the University of Birmingham a safe and positive environment in which to work and study. Harassment Advisers are here to support any member of the University of Birmingham affected by Harassment including staff, students, and visitors. The service they provide is completely confidential and allows members of the University to discuss their problems informally and without recourse to formal University processes
The Harassment Advisers adhere to the Employee Support Confidentiality Policy (PDF - 9KB) Advisers will not release any names or identifiable information about staff or students who use the service without their consent. Any information recorded by Advisers will be kept in a secure place, for reference for future appointments. All records and information will be maintained in accordance with the Data Protection Acts.
Information on service users’ race, gender, disability and the reasons for their using the service are collected for statistical purposes, but will not be used or presented in such a way that individual service users could be identified.
What are harassment and bullying?
Harassment is a pattern of behaviour that is unwelcome and has the effect of violating a person’s dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
The behaviour is usually persistent and continues over a period of time, although a one-off incident that is particularly serious can also amount to harassment.
Examples of harassment include:
- Insults, name-calling, offensive language and gestures and inappropriate jokes
- Ridiculing and undermining behaviour
- Inappropriate or unnecessary physical contact
- Physical assault or threats of physical assault
- Intimidating, coercive or threatening actions and behaviour
- Unwelcome sexual advances
- Isolation, non-cooperation or deliberate exclusion
- Inappropriate comments about a person’s appearance or sexual orientation, intrusive questions or comments about a person’s private life and malicious gossip
- Offensive images and literature
- Pestering, spying and stalking
Whilst views of ‘acceptable behaviour’ may vary from person to person, the key element of harassment is that the behaviour is unacceptable to the recipient and could ‘reasonably be considered’ to cause harassment.
It is unlawful to harass someone at work on the grounds of their race, sex, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or gender reassignment.
Harassment is distinct from the actions of a manager making reasonable (if unpopular) requests and the use of reasonable management techniques to improve performance.
Bullying is very similar to harassment. It is a pattern of offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour that abuses or misuses an individual’s power in order to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. For example, consistent invalid or unwarranted criticism, persistently ‘singling out’ an individual without good reason or isolating or ignoring them.
Harassment and bullying can be verbal or physical or be communicated through means, such as letters, emails, websites, text messages and graffiti.
Harassers and bullies often target people in less powerful positions than themselves. However, harassment and bullying can also occur in less obvious scenarios. For example, a member of staff may be harassed by a student, or a manager by a member of staff.
Like harassment, bullying is distinct from the actions of a manager making reasonable (if unpopular) requests and the use of reasonable management techniques to improve performance.
What support is available to me?
The Harassment Advisers provide a completely safe and confidential space where you can discuss your situation with a trained staff volunteer. The Advisers can listen to your problem, offer impartial advice and talk you through your options. Your union harassment representative can also provide advice and support.
If you email or call any of the Harassment Advisers this will be treated in complete confidence.
If you are an employee of the University you can also access support from the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) available to you.
I think I am being harassed or bullied. What options are available to me?
If you are being harassed or bullied you may feel that you are powerless to change the situation.
However, there are a number of informal and formal options open to you (set out below) and the Harassment Advisers can help you think though these options. Which is appropriate will depend on your situation. Where possible and appropriate we recommend an informal approach be used first.
Whatever course of action you take, it’s a good idea to keep a written record of the behaviour for your future reference, including:
- When and where the harassment or bullying takes place;
- Details of the behaviour; and
- Names of any witnesses to the behaviour.
1. Speak to the person concerned
Often speaking with the person about their behaviour can bring the situation to an end. Sometimes people do not realise that their behaviour is upsetting and explaining this to them can be enough to make them rethink their actions.
It is best to approach the person at the earliest opportunity to prevent the behaviour from escalating. Try to:
- Pick a time and place where you can speak privately
- Clearly identify the behaviour that is causing concern to you
- Make clear it is unwelcome and must stop
2. Seek Third Party intervention
If speaking to the person does not resolve the situation, getting a third party involved may help. Ideally this should be your line manager or the next senior person. The third party should try to resolve the situation, for example by speaking to the person concerned about their behaviour, by reaching an agreement between you and them about the way forward or by accessing Mediation.
3. Make a formal complaint
Where other approaches do not succeed, or where they are unsuitable, a formal complaint should be made. The complaint will be addressed under the relevant staff grievance procedure and will involve an investigation into the allegations. In the course of the investigation the complainant, alleged harasser and any witnesses will be interviewed.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, a formal complaint can result in disciplinary action being taken against the harasser, a recommendation for mediation, training or counselling or some other measure to address their behaviour.
Formal complaints should be addressed to your Head of School or Budget Centre, or the Director of HR. They should include your details, an outline of the allegation (including dates, times and places), details of the alleged harasser or bully, details of any witnesses and any attempts to resolve the situation.
The University will investigate the allegation as speedily as possible. Where the allegations are against people you come into regular contact with, arrangements to limit contact during the investigation will be considered.
For further information about making a formal complaint, see the Harassment and bullying policy (PDF - 279KB)
What can and can't a Harassment Adviser do?
A Harassment Adviser is a sympathetic, unbiased, neutral colleague who can support alleged victims of harassment as well as those accused of harassment.
A Harassment Adviser CAN:
- Provide a supportive, confidential environment in which to discuss problems
- Support those seeking their advice in making decisions that are right for them and their situation
- Provide information on the options that are available
- Assist those seeking advice in thinking those options through
- Empathise without judgement
- Provide a visitation record as proof that assistance was sought, upon request by the service user
A Harassment Advisor CANNOT:
- Force those seeking advice to do anything they don’t want to do
- Pass on specific information or details about who has accessed the service, except for a visitation record at the request of the service user
- Make decisions for service users or ‘fix’ their situation
- Take action against the Alleged Harasser
- Mediate or negotiate between the Complainant and the Alleged Harasser
- Provide counselling, this is available for staff from the University's Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provider Health Assured
- Student Counselling and Guidance can provide confidential counselling to registered students
- Give directional advice
- Act as an advocate: Harassment Advisers can provide informal support only
- Meet with other parties to the complaint
- Meet with service users outside of office hours or outside of the University premises
- How can I promote a healthy working environment?
There are a number of steps we can all take to prevent harassment and bullying.
- Think about your behaviour
Most people would not deliberately seek to cause upset or distress. However, it is important to recognise that behaviour that is acceptable to you may not be acceptable to others. For example ‘teasing’ a colleague about their sexuality or religion can create a humiliating or offensive environment for that person that is likely to be considered harassment.
- Support colleagues who are being harassed or bullied
Staff suffering harassment and bullying often feel isolated. If you believe a colleague is being harassed or bullied, take a quiet moment to speak with them and encourage them to take action, for example, by pointing them to this website or encouraging them to contact an Harassment Adviser.
If you are a manager and are concerned that your staff are engaging in behaviour that could constitute harassment or bullying, you have a responsibility to challenge this behaviour. Inaction can be seen as condoning that behaviour and can create a workplace culture in which unacceptable behaviour is tolerated.
If your job involves managing staff you have a particular responsibility to encourage dignity and respect in the workplace and to challenge unacceptable behaviour. You can learn more about this by:
- Reading the University's Harassment and bullying policy (PDF - 279KB)
- Attending relevant training courses provided by POD.
Harassment and bullying policy (PDF - 279KB)