Harassment - Frequently Asked Questions

Harassment - Frequently Asked Questions

A. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU DECIDE IF HARASSMENT HAS TAKEN PLACE

1. Although I have made it very clear that I am uncomfortable with this behaviour, my tutor persistently asks me personal questions unrelated to my work and sits very close to me at tutorials. Is this harassment?

This is unwanted and unwarranted behaviour which is affecting your quality of life and therefore constitutes harassment.

2. I feel as though my tutor is always critical of me in tutorials and/or of my written work. Does this amount to harassment?

Your tutor will clearly have high expectations as regards academic standards. Sometimes, what you may perceive as criticism of you will be the direction of these high expectations towards your academic work. So, provided that the way in which your tutor expresses views about your work is proper, fair and reasonable, the comments you may perceive as criticism are unlikely to amount to harassment.

However, it is particularly important for tutors to bear in mind that not all students will have high levels of confidence in their academic work, and that criticism of a student's work may in some cases greatly affect a student's feeling of self worth.

If you are feeling troubled, unhappy or humiliated about your tutor's behaviour or manner towards you, you should seek to talk the matter through. It may be possible to speak with the tutor in question about your feelings. If this would not be appropriate, you may wish to speak with a College Officer with pastoral responsibilities, another member of staff at the faculty, a harassment advisor, or OUSU's Student Advice Service.

3. I am a graduate student and my supervisor regularly sends emails to others about me in which jokes are made about my personal appearance. Is this harassment?

This is likely to be regarded as harassing behaviour if the jokes are perceived as humiliating and degrading.

4. I feel as though the person I report to in the department is unnecessarily critical when reviewing my work and/or I sometimes feel bullied by his or her instructions to me. Does this amount to harassment?

Reviewing your performance is an important part of your supervisor's job, and an important function of any performance review is to identify areas that require improvement, and discuss possible ways of attaining such improvement. Provided a performance review is carried out in a proper, fair and reasonable way, comments you may perceive as criticism will be unlikely to amount to harassment.

It is also the job of your supervisor to provide you with instructions. Clearly there will be times where your supervisor will be able to sit down with you and explain his/her instructions fully. At other times, he or she may be under pressure and may not be able to devote time to explaining matters to you as clearly as might be desired. Provided that instructions are given in a proper, fair, and reasonable way they are unlikely to amount to harassment.

However, if you are feeling troubled, unhappy or humiliated about your line manager's behaviour or manner towards you, you should seek to address and resolve these matters. It may be possible to speak with your supervisor but, if you feel unable to do so or consider that this would not be appropriate, you may wish to speak with the Personnel Advisor.

5. My supervisor constantly sets targets for me to complete work and when I fail to complete on time, s/he uses it as an opportunity to criticise me in front of colleagues/other students. Is this bullying?

Whilst the setting of reasonable targets which you are not able to meet is unlikely to constitute bullying, using this failure as an opportunity to criticise and to denigrate your work in front of others may be a form of bullying.

B. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CONFIDENTIALITY ISSUES

1. Will what I say to the harassment advisor be kept confidential?

Confidentiality underpins the role of a harassment advisor. Harassment advisors fully understand that coming forward to talk about the subject of harassment can be extremely difficult, and that many people would not come forward and seek advice unless they had complete trust in the confidentiality of the advisor. It is for this reason that, aside from limited exceptional circumstances (explained below), an advisor cannot, without specific consent, disclose either the identity of any party revealed in the course of dealing with a matter or even general facts relating to the allegation if doing so might compromise the anonymity of any party.

2. What are the exceptional circumstances referred to above?

The advisor will normally be bound by confidentiality unless they believe, on the basis of the information you have provided, that a serious criminal offence has been committed, and/or that harm may result to you or to another person.

In such circumstances, provided the advisor has used all reasonable efforts to persuade you to agree to the release of the information, he or she is permitted to disclose your identity and that of the alleged harasser to appropriate persons or authorities without your consent. Except in the case of emergencies, the advisor will always endeavour to discuss this with you first.

Very rarely cases of harassment can result in legal proceedings. Despite being confidential, the information may have to be disclosed in the course of such proceedings if it is relevant to them.

3. Can I talk to others about my allegations?

If you feel that you are being harassed, it is recommended that you speak to a harassment advisor before taking any other steps. The harassment advisor will urge you, and any person who accompanies you at any stage of any complaints procedure, to treat all information relating to your complaint in a strictly confidential manner.

An allegation of harassment made in good faith and expressed in confidence within the context of a complaints procedure, which includes seeking advice from a harassment advisor, should not amount to defamation, even if the allegation is not substantiated. However, indiscriminate discussion of your complaint could result in a counter-complaint being made against you for defaming or harassing the alleged harasser.

If you feel you need to talk to someone other than your advisor you should ask their advice about this matter. If an allegation is malicious, it may be subject to a defamation claim even if made in confidence to a proper authority. However, the mere fact that a complaint is not upheld in an investigation or subsequent disciplinary procedure will not normally make it malicious.

4. Will the harassment advisor keep records of our meetings?

It is important for advisors to keep a factual record of meetings, advice given, and actions taken for their own use, and to ensure that they can give the best possible advice and support. Ideally, record keeping should commence when the advisor receives your initial request for assistance.

As with your records of events, advisors' records may be of importance if they are subsequently asked to give an account of their actions or if the complaint in question progresses to a formal disciplinary hearing. All records will be kept in strict confidence and in the advisor's own possession for as long as he or she considers appropriate.

5. Can I, or anyone else, ask to see the records?

Under the Data Protection Act 1998 any individual has the right to see their own personal data held by the College subject to the rights of confidentiality of any third parties in that information.

C. WHAT SHOULD I DO IF A COMPLAINT OF HARASSMENT IS MADE AGAINST ME?

You have the right to seek advice from a confidential harassment advisor and the College recommends that you do so. The same harassment advisor consulted by the complainant will not be able to advise you in relation to the complaint.

If you are aware that someone is unhappy with your behaviour and is contemplating a formal complaint, an advisor can discuss with you the possibility of reaching an informal resolution. In the first instance, this may involve offering a verbal or written apology to the complainant, and/or explaining that you had not realised the effect of your behaviour, and giving an undertaking not to repeat the behaviour in future. You should keep a factual record of what you say, a copy of any letter you write and a note of the response of the complainant. This will be useful to you if a formal complaint is subsequently made and an investigation undertaken.

Not every allegation of harassment is well-founded. Malicious or vexatious allegations may give grounds for disciplinary proceedings against the complainant, but this will not include ill founded allegations which were nonetheless made in good faith.

D. GUIDANCE ON TAKING ACTION IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE BEEN HARASSED

1. Informal or formal resolution?

If possible, you should attempt to resolve the matter informally; it may be that the alleged harasser does not know what effect his or her behaviour is having on you. If an informal resolution can be effectively achieved, this will in many cases be advantageous to you. It is however recognised that, in some cases, only a formal procedure would be appropriate.

Regardless of whether you succeed in resolving the matter informally, or decide to bring a formal complaint, try to keep a factual record of the offending behaviour. It is easy to forget details after the event and such a record will help you when seeking advice, in deciding whether to make a complaint, in formulating the complaint and in giving evidence at any subsequent hearing.

The harassment advisor will discuss with you what steps you can take to try to reach an informal resolution. The first step may be to speak with the alleged harasser and let him or her know that you object to his or her behaviour, explain why you object and ask that they stop. You should keep a factual record of what is said and done and of any witnesses present.

Alternatively, or as a second step, you could put your objections and a request to stop in a letter addressed to the alleged harasser. Again, keep a copy. It is not advisable to communicate with the alleged harasser by email as these are easily copied and all too quickly sent without proper consideration of the wording. The harassment advisor cannot tell you what you should say, or write a letter for you, but he or she can guide you, discuss the steps to take and review the outcomes with you.

If the behaviour continues regardless of your requests to stop, or if attempting an informal resolution is not appropriate in the first place, the next stage will be to make a formal complaint.

Physical attacks: Any member of the College, or visitor, who has been physically attacked should seek help immediately. This may involve reporting the attack to the police. Any harassment advisor will be able to provide support, and help the individual to decide what to do.

No further action will normally be taken on behalf of the individual unless they have first been informed and have given their express permission. For the protection of all, it is important that the offender is dealt with. Should an individual decide to go to the police, they will not be asked to go alone, unless they wish to do so.

Any member of the College, or visitor, who has been sexually assaulted should seek medical help and advice immediately.

2. Should I use the College procedures or the University procedures?

This will depend on the circumstances. It may be the case that only one procedure is relevant. On the other hand it may be the case that you could take the matter forward under either procedure. Your harassment advisor will explain the options to you. Whichever procedure you use you cannot then use the other one if you are dissatisfied with the outcome.

3. Making a formal complaint

The decision to bring a formal complaint is one which you are advised to take only after discussion with your harassment advisor. Your advisor will be able to explain to you what issues you ought to take into account when making your decision on whether to make a formal complaint.

You do, however, have the right to make a formal complaint on your own initiative, without advice from a harassment advisor, if you prefer to do so. It is recognised that formal resolution of a complaint may be the only means of bringing harassment to an end. Whether or not the complaint is upheld, any adverse reaction towards you by the alleged harasser or by others on his or her behalf is likely to constitute further harassment and/or victimisation which itself is a serious offence.

The College's commitment to non-tolerance of harassment applies equally strongly to victimisation and any such incident will be taken extremely seriously and dealt with under the College's disciplinary procedures.

4. Who should the formal complaint be addressed to?

This will depend upon the status of the person or the persons complained against as set out below:

If the person complained against is a member of the academic or academic-related staff (including a Head of Department) you should write to the Academic Registrar.

If the person complained against is a member of the non-academic staff you should write to the Home Bursar.

If the person complained against is a student member you should write to the Proctors.

If the person complained against is a visiting academic or student advice should be sought from the Registrar or Proctors respectively.

5. What should I do if I do not know the status of the alleged harasser?

If you do not know the status of the alleged harasser and therefore the correct person to whom to address your complaint, you should consult your departmental administrator or a harassment advisor; they can guide you as to the correct procedure.

6. What should I include in my letter of complaint?

You will need to make sure that your written complaint is accurate and clear. The sort of details you need to include are: the description of the behaviour complained about; the dates of any relevant events in chronological order; and information about any witnesses to the events. This will help the person to whom the complaint is addressed to make a speedy decision on whether or not an investigation should take place.

You should keep a copy of the complaint and of any evidence you send with it. You should also treat all information relating to your complaint as strictly confidential. The harassment advisor cannot write the complaint for you but he or she can guide and support you in drawing up your complaint.

7. What will happen to the complaint?

The person to whom the complaint is addressed will consider the matter and will let you know as soon as possible and normally within 10 days whether an investigation into the complaint is to be held or not.

It may be decided not to carry out a formal investigation, for example, because the complaint contains sufficient evidence to invoke disciplinary proceedings immediately; because it does not appear to disclose grounds for a claim of harassment; or because it would be more appropriately dealt with under a different procedure. If no investigation is to take place, you will be told why and what other action may be taken, if any.

8. When will the alleged harasser be informed of my complaint?

Once you have made a formal complaint and it is decided to set up an investigation, the person complained against will be informed of your identity and the nature of your complaint. Without disclosing such information, it would not be possible for a full investigation to take place or for the alleged harasser to know, and to prepare to defend, the case against him or her.

It will normally, however, be made clear to the alleged harasser that any attempt at victimisation as a result of making the complaint will be treated extremely seriously under the College's disciplinary procedures.

If you have any concerns about possible victimisation, you should bring them to the attention of your harassment advisor and/ or the investigating body to ensure that (i) these matters are taken into account in the investigation; (ii) appropriate steps are taken to eradicate any victimisation pending the outcome of the investigation; and (iii) any additional disciplinary procedures are considered and/or undertaken.

9. Who carries out the investigation?

If an investigation is to take place, it will be carried out by a nominee of the Master or Home Bursar (as appropriate) for cases against staff, or by the Proctors in the case of allegations against students. In the case of visitors, appropriate steps will be considered in each case, depending on the nature of the relationship between the individual and the College and any third party that might have authority to take action.

10. What is the purpose of the investigation?

The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether there is a case for the alleged harasser to answer. An investigation normally precedes any formal disciplinary procedure. Exceptionally, however, the case may be so serious or the available evidence sufficiently clear that immediate disciplinary action is warranted.

11. How long will the investigation take?

You will normally be given information about the expected timescale when you are informed that an investigation is to take place. Every attempt will be made to complete the investigation as quickly as possible and normally it will be completed within six weeks. If this is not possible, you will be given the reasons why and be given further information about the expected completion date.

12. Will I be interviewed as part of the investigation process?

Both you and the alleged harasser, along with any relevant witnesses, will normally be interviewed. However you and the alleged harasser will not be interviewed together.

A written note of the interview will be taken; you will be provided with a copy of this note and will be given the opportunity to check the wording. (Notes will also be taken of the interviews with the alleged harasser and the witnesses and they will be given an opportunity of reviewing the written records of their own interviews).

If it is necessary to tape any interview, the interviewee in question will be given a copy of the tape.

13. Will I be interviewed alone?

If you are a student you may be accompanied at the interview by a member of Congregation. If you are a member of staff, you may be request to be accompanied at the interview by a trade union representative or a work colleague. If you are the alleged harasser, then you have the same right to request to be accompanied.

14. Will I be required to do anything else by the investigator?

The investigator may ask you or others to produce additional material, for example to respond to a point that has been made by someone else. Where this is done, the investigator will give you reasonable notice, normally five days.

15. What happens when the investigation has been completed?

Once the relevant facts have been ascertained, the investigator will make a report on his/her investigation. This will be submitted to the person to whom you submitted your formal complaint, and that person will make a decision on whether, based on the matters disclosed in the investigation, there is a case to be answered by the alleged harasser.

Both you and the alleged harasser will receive written notice of the decision as soon as possible after the completion of the investigation.

16. What happens if the investigation reveals that there is a case for the alleged harasser to answer?

If the investigation reveals that there is a case to be answered, the College's disciplinary process may be invoked. The nature of any disciplinary proceedings will depend upon whether the alleged harasser is a student, or a member of staff. The report of the investigation and material gathered in the course of the investigation will form part of the documentation for consideration in the disciplinary process.

17. What happens if the investigation does not lead to disciplinary proceedings?

It may be that whilst the investigation does not lead to disciplinary proceedings, it nevertheless reveals development and/or training needs and/or other issues which need to be addressed. In this case you will be informed of any recommended action, subject (where appropriate) to the duty of confidentiality to the person complained against.

The person about whom you have complained will also be given full details of any action to be taken in the light of the investigation.

Whilst it anticipates that the following situation will never arise, the College recognises the possibility that complaints of harassment might be brought by persons with mischievous or malicious intent. This will be regarded extremely seriously by the College, because not only are false allegations of harassment potentially defamatory, but they may also cause considerable distress for those against whom the unfounded allegations are made. Such behaviour will not, therefore, be tolerated, and may provide grounds for disciplinary action against individuals in accordance with the guidelines set down by the College.

18. What happens if I am not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation, where that outcome is that no disciplinary proceedings should be invoked?

You should discuss this matter with your departmental administrator and/or with the harassment advisor; they will be able to tell you what further action may be possible.

19. What happens if disciplinary proceedings are invoked?

If disciplinary proceedings are invoked against the person complained of, the exact form will depend on the status of the person involved, as follows:

The procedures in cases where the person complained of is a student are those set out in Statute XI and in Council Regulations 32 of 2002.

The procedures in cases where the person complained of is a member of the academic staff are those set out in Part D of Statute XII and the associated Regulations.

The procedures in cases where the person complained of is a non-academic staff member are those set out in the disciplinary policy published on the College website.

20. What is involved in the disciplinary process?

In serious cases the alleged harasser could be suspended until the disciplinary hearing takes place. Suspension is not in itself a disciplinary penalty; for example, it may be used to protect you or others from potential harassment or victimisation.

If a disciplinary hearing takes place, it is likely that you will be required to tell the disciplinary panel about your complaint in the presence of the alleged harasser and to answer any questions that the alleged harasser or his or her representative wants to ask you. Your harassment advisor will be able to provide you with support through this process but will not be able to represent you.

Otherwise, you are unlikely to play any formal part in the disciplinary proceedings; for example you will not be present when the disciplinary panel makes its decision. You will, however, be kept updated wherever possible.

If you are the subject of the disciplinary hearing, your harassment advisor will also remain available to provide you with support throughout the process although he or she cannot represent you during this process.

21. Will I be told the outcome of the disciplinary process?

If you are the person who has complained of harassment, then you may be told in outline what the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings is though you will not be entitled to full details if these breach the duty of confidentiality to the person complained of.

22. What if I am not satisfied with the outcome of the disciplinary process?

If you are the person who has made the original complaint, then you should discuss this matter with your departmental administrator and/or your harassment advisor.

If you are the subject of the disciplinary proceedings, and the charges against you have been substantiated, then you have a right of appeal. You will be provided with further information on this when notified of the outcome of the disciplinary hearing.