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The University of Southampton

Dignity at work and study policy

Policy statement

The University of Southampton is committed to supporting, developing and promoting equality and diversity in all of its practices and activities. We aim to establish an inclusive culture, free from discrimination and based on the values of dignity, courtesy and respect. We recognise the right of every person to be treated in accordance with these values.

The failure of University staff and students to behave with dignity, courtesy and respect towards others can harm individuals and impair the functioning and reputation of the University. Harassment, bullying and victimisation can cause fear, stress and anxiety, which impose strains on work, study, personal and family life. They can lead to illness, accidents, absenteeism, poor performance, an apparent lack of commitment, and staff resignation or student withdrawal from the University. As such, harassment, bullying and victimisation are unacceptable forms of behaviour and will not be tolerated.

The University will not tolerate incidents of harassment against staff or students by third parties, including project partners, clients, contractors or visitors. Any examples of such harassment should be brought to the attention of your line manager, tutor or supervisor immediately.

Any allegation of harassment, bullying or victimisation will be treated seriously, regardless of the seniority of those involved, and anyone found to have behaved unacceptably may be the subject of disciplinary action up to and including dismissal or expulsion.
Fair criticism of staff or student performance or conduct will not be considered to be bullying or harassment, provided that those involved are treated with dignity, courtesy and respect.

We are committed to taking action to resolve disputes and conflict early on, wherever possible, and work in partnership with key parties across the University, including the Student’s Union and recognised trade unions, to develop positive approaches to conflict and dispute resolution.

We recognise that some issues affecting dignity at work and study can arise out of miscommunication, misunderstandings and relationship difficulties. The University’s mediation service can facilitate discussions between parties where someone alleges that their dignity has been affected. This opportunity will be offered in these cases in the first instance, although it is not compulsory. Anyone who chooses to attend a mediation session will not be prevented from recourse to the University’s other procedures .

Objectives of this policy

The aims of this policy and accompanying guidance are to:

Application of this policy

This policy applies to the conduct of the staff and students of the University of Southampton, in the context of their University work or study, or which otherwise affects the working, learning or social environment of the University. This can include the way in which staff and students behave towards colleagues and peers outside University premises on University-related social occasions. It can also include conduct towards people who are not members of the University in the context of University business (such as applicants, contractors, patients and other members of the public who visit University sites or use University services).

We will draw this policy to the attention of consultants and contractors through the University’s procurement processes and we will make it clear that harassment of staff or students will not be tolerated.

This policy should be read in conjunction with other University of Southampton policies and procedures, including:

Staff and students who undertake work placements or secondments outside the University as part of their employment or study, and those holding honorary contracts to work outside the University, should read this policy in conjunction with the dignity at work, harassment or bullying policies of the employer with which they are placed.

In the event that a complaint of harassment is made in against or by a member of staff or a student from the University, while undertaking a work placement or secondment, it is likely that this policy and any applicable policies of the placement will be jointly considered (subject to the terms of any secondment or other agreement).

Staff and students involved in a harassment complaint while undertaking a work placement or secondment will have access to the same support arrangements as if the complaint had occurred on University premises. This includes counselling, Harassment Contacts, mentoring and advice from the Diversity Office and the Student’s Union Advice and Information Centre. The University will support its staff and students in whatever way is considered appropriate for any case.

Definitions of harassment, bullying and victimisation

Harassment, bullying and victimisation can occur in different types of relationships, regardless of prejudice and stereotypes. For example, it is possible for a junior colleague to bully a person in a senior role; for a student to harass a member of staff; or a woman to victimise a man.

We recognise that any of the examples set out here, and other intimidating behaviour, may be demonstrated by one person or by more than one person in a concerted effort to create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for another individual (‘mobbing’).


Harassment encompasses many different types of physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct. It can occur as an isolated incident, many sporadic incidents or as on-going behaviour. The defining features are that the conduct:

Harassment that is related to a person’s or group of people’s age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation can constitute unlawful discrimination, for which staff and students can be held legally and personally liable.

A victim of harassment is not the only person who can issue a complaint about that harassment. An observer may bring such conduct to the attention of their line manager, tutor or supervisor, on the part of another person, on the basis that it amounts to a breach of this policy.

A person can complain of harassment where conduct is based on the incorrect perception or the association of a person with others. For example: homophobic remarks made about a heterosexual person; or harassment of a person because they have a disabled child.

Examples of harassment:


Bullying is the abuse of personal or collective power or a position of authority, in and aggressive or subtle way, which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable and undermines their self-confidence.

Examples of bullying:


Victimisation occurs when a person is mistreated because they have made, or intend to make, a complaint of discrimination (including harassment and/or bullying), or have helped another person to make a complaint.

Victimisation can constitute unlawful discrimination and result in disciplinary action, regardless of the outcome of the original complaint.


Ultimate responsibility for this policy rests with University Council; however, Council will require the Vice-Chancellor to ensure that the policy is applied effectively.

The Vice-Chancellor will devolve responsibility for the application of this policy, and any supporting guidance, to the Pro-Vice Chancellors, Deans, Faculty Operating Officers and heads of Professional Services.

It is the responsibility of all persons in authority (including Deans, Faculty Operating Officers, heads of Professional Services, managers, supervisors, tutors and all staff working directly with students or members of the public) to:

It is the responsibility of all University staff and students to:

Informal and formal procedures to address unacceptable behaviour

The University recognises that it can be difficult to raise a complaint of harassment, bullying or victimisation whether on a formal or informal basis. We seek to ensure that people who feel that they have been the subject of harassment, bullying or victimisation are able to raise their concerns, and to have them addressed appropriately.
Before any formal procedure is invoked, alternative resolution techniques should be considered and offered, if appropriate. HR Client Partners and Advisers can provide further guidance and support on this.

Informal procedures

The University’s mediation service can facilitate the resolution of work and study place conflicts. Trained staff are able to support parties in resolving a dispute through facilitated discussion.

We recognise that mediation may not be suitable for every complaint of bullying or harassment. However, the opportunity will always be provided to those who would prefer to resolve a conflict informally.

Members of staff or students seeking the assistance of the mediation service should contact Legal Services, the Diversity Team or Human Resources.

In cases where mediation by a member of University staff is inappropriate, Human Resources will make arrangements, on behalf of the relevant Dean or his or her nominee, with an external mediation provider.

Harassment Contacts

The University’s Harassment Contacts can provide advice and support to staff or students who feel that they have been the subject of harassment, bullying or victimisation. Harassment Contacts can also counsel those accused of harassment, bullying or victimisation, and advise them on the processes in place that could affect them.

The Harassment Contacts are coordinated by the Diversity Team, and their contact details can found via the Diversity website.
Harassment Contacts can help staff and students who feel upset or offended by the behaviour of another person to:

For staff and students whose behaviour is challenged as unacceptable by another person, Harassment Contacts can support by:

Throughout any informal or formal process, a Harassment Contact will support a person through the process, and act as an adviser. They will not take action independently of that person’s wishes or outside the scope of their defined role. A Harassment Contact will not act as a representative, but may accompany a person during meetings, including a grievance hearing or a student complaint meeting.

Harassment Contacts will maintain brief anonymous records of the details of the cases they have dealt with and the advice that they have provided. These details will be sent to the Diversity Office, who will maintain an overview of the work the Harassment Contacts are undertaking. This information will be held in complete confidence.

There is no obligation for a person involved in a harassment, bullying or victimisation situation to seek the advice of a Harassment Contact in order to make a complaint, or seek alternative resolution.

Trying to resolve a situation informally will not preclude any person from pursuing formal complaint procedures.

Informal resolutions and links with formal procedures

Complaints made by University staff or students may be addressed informally through the initial stages of the Staff Discipline and Grievance Procedures, Student Complaints Procedure and Student Disciplinary Regulations.

During the informal stages of these policies and procedures, Faculty Operating Officers, Professional Services Managers or their nominees, have discretion as to the best way to address a complaint. They may use, but are not required or limited to, the following informal means:

Formal procedures

All formal complaints relating to harassment, bullying or victimisation should be made through existing grievance, complaint and disciplinary procedures3.

The rules of the formal procedures will apply in full. Faculty Operating Officers, Professional Services managers or their nominees, have discretion as to whether informal action may still be used to try to resolve the situation at this stage.

If a counter allegation is made during an investigation, this will be addressed as part of the on-going investigation and handled within the guidelines of the procedure being followed.

Disciplinary action can be taken against individuals who are found to have brought complaints based on knowingly false information or with malicious intent. Such action will not be taken against anyone who brings a complaint in good faith, even if that complaint is not upheld.

Sometimes it is necessary to separate those involved in complaints procedures during the period of investigation. In such circumstances, it is possible that one of the parties to a complaint will be transferred, redeployed, asked to work from a different location, or suspended from work or study. These steps are taken to protect the interests of both parties and do not constitute disciplinary action. The decision as to which individual will be moved, in order to effect the separation, will be based on objective criteria, including travel arrangements, work-life balance issues, needs of the services performed by staff, and effect on studies for students. Paid staff will remain on full pay for the duration of an investigation.

Some forms of harassment can constitute criminal offences or grounds for civil proceedings. Nothing in this policy or related procedures will prevent staff or students from exercising their right to pursue legal action.

Confidentiality in the workplace

Once an investigation has been initiated, all those involved should ensure that confidentiality is maintained, for both the complainer and the complainant.

Breaches of confidentiality may result in disciplinary action being taken. The need to observe an appropriate level of confidentiality will not prevent anyone involved in the procedure from seeking the advice of a Harassment Contact, Human Resources, trade union or Students’ Union representative or solicitor.

However, there will be occasions where the University will need to disclose information necessary for the discharge of its Duty of Care or as required by law.

Disciplinary action

A complaint of harassment, bullying or victimisation may result in disciplinary action against a staff member or student against whom allegations have been made. Disciplinary procedures will not be invoked until the complaint has been investigated, in accordance with the University’s grievance or disciplinary procedures. Any action will be taken in accordance with the existing disciplinary procedures3.

Serious cases of harassment, bullying or victimisation perpetrated by staff will be treated as gross misconduct and may lead to staff dismissal through the disciplinary hearing process. Less serious incidents may result in a written or verbal warning, or informal action (such as requiring a member of staff to attend a relevant training session).

Serious cases of harassment, bullying or victimisation perpetrated by students will be treated as a serious breach of the Regulations Governing Student Discipline, and may lead to permanent exclusion from the University. Less serious incidents may result in a reprimand, suspension or other penalties detailed within the Regulations Governing Student Discipline.
In extreme circumstances, incidents of harassment or bullying behaviour may breach criminal law and the University is obligated to refer such incidents to the police. In such situations, Human Resources or Student Services, in relation to staff or students respectively, must be contacted for advice.

Training and awareness

All new University staff will be made aware of this policy at induction and relevant University webpages. New students will be made aware of this policy through the Student Handbook, Student Services website, Student Resources Network, School Information, SUAIC and the SUSU website.

This policy, and notice of any updates or changes to it, will be disseminated to current staff via Faculty Operating Officers and Heads of Professional Services, and to current students via the Student’s Union and through the development of a publicity campaign to promote dignity at work and study. Details of this policy and campaign will also be published on the University website.

Issues relating to dignity at work and study will be included as part of equality and diversity training, including a specific session on dignity at work and study in the staff development programme. Briefings will be specifically targeted for staff who work in the areas of student complaints and discipline, and complaints and grievances for staff.

Training, support, advice and guidance on addressing harassment, bullying and victimisation will be made available to managers and supervisors. Human Resources Client Partners and Advisers, who regularly receive similar training, will support those undertaking harassment investigations.


Any complaint discussed with Human Resources will be logged, regardless of whether informal or formal procedures are pursued, for the purposes of monitoring the extent and subject of harassment, bullying and victimisation throughout the University.

Harassment Contacts will log all enquiries while maintaining the anonymity of enquirers, including demographic data, where possible and appropriate.

Any demographic data provided in this way will remain strictly confidential to the Harassment Contacts and the Diversity Team. Any analysis of such data, which will solely be for the purpose of monitoring the level and nature of complaints, will maintain the anonymity of those that it relates.

Staff and students seeking advice who do not wish to provide any part of the demographic data will not receive any less support from the University than those who do.


The Diversity Manager has responsibility for ensuring the maintenance, regular review and updating of this policy in consultation with representatives from across the University, including the trade unions, Students’ Union, Student Services, Deans, Faculty Operating Officers, Health and Safety, Occupational Health and relevant committees, such as the Academic Quality and Standards Committee and Human Resources Committee.

The University’s Diversity Champion will chair an annual meeting with key stakeholders to discuss on-going issues regarding the implementation of this policy.

Further advice

University staff who have questions regarding the application of this policy should raise them with their manager or supervisor, Human Resources Client Partners or Advisers, Faculty Operating Officer, a Harassment Contact or the Diversity Team.

University students who have any questions regarding the application of this Policy should raise them with their personal tutor or senior tutor, School Manager, Faculty Operating Officer, the Student’s Union Advice and Information Centre, a Harassment Contact, the Educational Quality Coordinator for Student Complaints, Appeals and Feedback, or the Diversity Team.
Members of the public who have any questions regarding the application of this policy should raise them with the relevant University department listed in Appendix A or the Diversity Team.

In addition, advice may be sought at any stage from the following organisations:

Equality and Human Rights Commission

0845 604 6610

Opportunity Now

137 Shepherdess Walk
London N1 7RQ
0870 600 2482

Citizens Advice Bureau

3 Kings Park Road
Southampton SO15 2AT
023 8022 1406

Office of the Independent Adjudicator for students in Higher Education

Third Floor, Kings Reach, 38-50 Kinds Road
Reading RG1 3AA
0118 959 9813

Students' Union Advice and Information Centre (SUAIC)

023 8059 2085

UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line

01235 212286

Bully Online
Unite the Union
University of Southampton
47 University Road
Southampton SO17 1BJ
University and College Union (UCU)
University of Southampton
47 University Road
Southampton SO17 1BJ
023 8059 2364
University of Southampton
47 University Road
Southampton SO17 1BJ

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Policy statement

Objectives of this policy

Application of this policy

Definitions of harassment, bullying and victimisation


Informal and formal procedures

Disciplinary action

Training and awareness



Further advice

Privacy Settings