Advice for Staff and Students on Harassment and Bullying

What is harassment?

In Law, harassment is defined as unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of:

a) violating dignity or

b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment

What is the University’s Policy on the prevention of harassment?

Aston University is committed to the continuing development of a positive and productive working environment that encourages good working relationships for staff and students. All members of the University community and visitors to the University are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect and the University is committed to promoting a culture that supports and encourages this.

It recognises that the work and study environment needs to be free from discrimination, harassment and bullying. Harassment of one member of the University community by another is unacceptable behaviour. All members of staff and students are responsible for helping to ensure that individuals do not suffer any form of harassment.

Any incidents of harassment may be regarded as grounds for disciplinary action which may result in dismissal or expulsion from the University. Victimisation of any individual who makes a complaint of harassment or bullying is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

This policy also recognises the particular relationship of trust and authority between staff and students. If a student feels that they are being subjected to harassment by a member of staff or vice versa they may use the steps outlined in the guidelines for dealing with personal harassment.

Different forms of harassment

Personal harassment

Takes many forms, and can range from subtle, derisory remarks to violent behaviour. The behaviour may be persistent or may be by its nature or severity, e.g. violence, be unacceptable even on a single occasion. Differences in culture, attitudes and experience, or the misinterpretation of social signals can mean that what is perceived as harassment by one person may not seem so to another.

Sexual harassment

Always involves unwanted sexual attention which emphasises sexual status over status as an individual or colleague. It can be physical, ranging from suggestive looks to indecent assault or rape, or verbal, ranging from belittling or suggestive remarks and compromising invitations to aggressively foul language or unwanted demands for sex. Sexual harassment occurs when any such behaviour creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for employment or for social life. Any behaviour that makes the recipient feel themselves viewed as a sexual object is liable to cause offence even if offence is not intended.

Racial harassment

May be defined as any hostile or offensive act or expression by a person of one racial group or ethnic origin against a person of another, or incitement to commit such an act. Such behaviour includes derogatory name-calling, insults and racist jokes, racist graffiti, verbal abuse and threats, physical attack, and ridicule of an individual for cultural differences. Racial harassment occurs when any such behaviour creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for employment or for social life.

Harassment of disabled people

May be defined as conscious or unconscious conduct towards people with disabilities which undermines their dignity, self-confidence and career opportunities. Such behaviour includes offensive language, derogatory name-calling, ‘jokes’ and mockery, uninvited, patronising or unnecessary assistance with duties, unfair or impractical work expectations.

Harassment on the grounds of Sexual Orientation

May be defined as any behaviour, conscious or unconscious, pertaining to sexual orientation, which is found to be offensive or objectionable to recipients and which creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment. Such behaviour includes homophobic remarks or jokes, innuendo or gossip, threats of disclosing sexuality, exclusion from School/Departmental activities.

Harassment on the grounds of age

Is based on attitudes or assumptions and stereotyping which are prejudicial to older or younger people. Some examples of ageist harassment are derogatory remarks or behaviour, expressing prejudicial assumptions about abilities or excluding people from social activities. Forthcoming legislation will prohibit all types of Age Discrimination by the end of 2006.

Religious Harassment

Includes the use of embarrassing or derogatory remarks, drawing unwelcome attention to an individual’s religious beliefs, exclusion from social activities, ridicule or religious jokes.


Is threatening, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, which may be an abuse of power, position or knowledge. Bullying can happen in public or in private and attacks are often irrational and unpredictable and serve to undermine an individual’s self-confidence and ability. Such behaviour includes instantaneous rages, often over ‘trivial’ matters, derogatory or belittling remarks, constant criticism, shouting or sarcasm, setting impossible deadlines or workloads and making threats associated with failure to achieve, public humiliation, removing areas of responsibility without consultation.

Other Forms of Harassment

The University wishes to discourage all forms of harassment and therefore harassment of any kind and on any basis will not be tolerated. The University also regards the inappropriate use of modern technology as a form of harassment such as offensive e-mail, messages or faxes, or inappropriate screen savers.

Steps to take if you feel you are being harassed or bullied

If you feel that you are being subjected to harassment in any form, do not feel that it is your fault or that you have to tolerate it. Nor should you be deterred from making a complaint because of embarrassment or fear of intimidation or publicity. The University will treat all complaints sensitively and appropriately and take all reasonable action to protect you. There are various steps that you or the University can take to deal with harassment, both on an informal or formal level.

Guidance on this can be found in the Prevention of Harassment Policy or by talking through the options with a Harassment Adviser.

Leaflet giving information for staff and students - Promoting Dignity at Aston

How do I contact a Dignity at Work and Study Contact?

Ring the Confidential hotline on 5454.  You will be put through to a voicemail.  Please leave a message and someone will get back to you with an offer of an appointment.

What should I do if I notice that a colleague or student is being harassed or bullied?

This really depends on your relationship with the person concerned. If you can talk to them about it then do so and try to find out how they perceive the behaviour you have noticed. You may wish to encourage them to talk to a Harassment Adviser. If you are the person’s manager or tutor, then you have a particular responsibility to try to address the problem. You may wish to get advice from the Equal Opportunities Unit about the best way to address this issue.

Where else could I get information and advice?

For staff:

Contact the appropriate HR Business Partner for your School or Department.

Numbers can be found at: www.aston.ac.uk/staff/hr/contacts/

For students:

Contact the Advice and Representation Centre (ARC) in the Students’ Guild on 4848.

Staff or Students may also wish to contact the University Counselling

Service on 4711 or by email counselling@aston.ac.uk

What do I do if I am assaulted or seriously threatened or intimidated?

In an emergency Contact Security on the following numbers

- 222 Internal

- 2222 from Residences

- 0121 359 2922 from a mobile or other outside number

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