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Bullying and harassment

If you or someone you know has experienced bullying or harassment, you do not have to cope alone. Support is available at the University and by external support services.

What are bullying and harassment?

Bullying and harassment go against St Mary’s values, the Equality Act 2010, and St Mary’s Dignity at Work statement. Bullying and harassment take many forms, none of which are tolerated at St Mary’s for staff or students.

What is bullying?

Bullying can be defined in many ways but the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) states that it is generally behaviour that is characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. It does not have to be related to discriminatory behaviour. It may be persistent or an isolated incident.

Bullying behaviour is largely identified not so much by what has actually been done, but rather by the effect that it has on the recipient. However, during any investigation, the investigator will assess whether it was reasonable for behaviour to have had the impact described. Bullying on the grounds of any protected characteristic is unlawful and will not be tolerated in any form.

Bullying can be physical or psychological and can be equally damaging. This will usually be considered a matter of misconduct and may constitute gross misconduct and should be dealt with under the disciplinary procedure.

It is unacceptable to condone bullying behaviour under the guise of a particular management style. Effective management obtains results while ensuring that employees are treated with dignity and respect.

Examples of being bullied include, but are not limited to: 

  • shouting at, being sarcastic towards, ridiculing or demeaning others
  • overbearing and intimidating levels of supervision
  • inappropriate and/or derogatory remarks about someone's performance
  • abuse of authority or power by those in positions of seniority
  • deliberately excluding someone without good reason.

Bullying can take the form of persistent behaviour or a single action.

Note: Legitimate, constructive and fair criticism of an employee’s performance or behaviour at work is not bullying. It is also recognised that an occasional raised voice or argument in itself may not constitute bullying, though is not encouraged.

What is harassment?

Harassment is defined under the Equality Act as ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.’

Harassment may not depend on an intention to cause distress or hurt but is assessed by the impact the behaviour has on the recipient. As a result, it is possible that behaviour that is acceptable to some staff members may cause embarrassment, distress or anxiety to others. However, during any investigation, the investigator will assess whether it was reasonable for behaviour to have had the impact described. Harassment on the grounds of any protected characteristic is unlawful and will not be tolerated in any form.

While harassment often involves repeated acts of offensive behaviour, a single incident may constitute also harassment.

Harassment is not necessarily face to face, it may be by written communications, including (but not limited to) email or social media, and phone. Inappropriate communications sent from home or personal accounts or personal mobiles, including communications sent outside of working time will be investigated where these impact on the working relationship.

Behaviour considered Harassment could be, but is not limited to:

  • Deliberate physical and/or verbal abuse including embarrassing or derogatory remarks, jokes, name-calling and obscene gestures.
  • Ridiculing an individual because of physical differences, the way they present their masculinity or femininity, in terms of dress or attitude.
  • Making stereotypical assumptions about colleagues, friends or members of the public based on their sexuality.
  • Deliberate interference with wheelchair or support equipment.
  • Racist, sexist, homophobic or ageist 'jokes', or derogatory or stereotypical remarks about a particular ethnic or religious group or gender.
  • Outing or threatening to out someone as gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans.
  • Ridiculing an individual because of the way they dress or their religious observance customs.
  • Using blasphemous or offensive language against any religion or belief, or making inappropriate or derogatory references to religious figures or customs.

Harassment based on any protected characteristic and/or bullying are serious employment issues and may be in breach of legislation. St Mary’s may be liable for the actions of employees, whether or not they are carried out with management knowledge or approval. This is in addition to the employee’s individual liability for their own actions.

What is victimisation?

ACAS states that victimisation broadly refers to bad treatment directed towards someone who has made or is believed to have made or supported a complaint under the Equality Act. It includes situations where a complaint hasn't yet been made but someone is victimised because it's suspected they might make one. If an individual gives false evidence or makes an allegation in bad faith, then they are not protected from victimisation under the Act.

If you think you have been a victim of bullying and/or harassment, it may be difficult to navigate what to do or how to feel. That’s okay. What happened was not your fault, you’re not alone, and what you do next is entirely up to you.

Internal Support

Employee Assitance Programme 

If you would like to seek support without making a formal complaint, you may reach out to the University’s free and confidential Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – available 24/7. This service is available to all St Mary’s employees and their immediate family members.

EAP Helpline numbers

  • UK: 0800 358 48 58 (free from a landline) or 0330 332 9980 (uses mobile contract minutes)
  • International: +44 141 271 7179

Mental Health First Aiders

Employees are also encouraged to contact one of St Mary’s trained Mental Health First Aiders for a confidential source of initial support and signposting to appropriate help if required.

These support services are also available for staff members who decide to report an incident to the university.

External support

We understand that sometimes people feel more comfortable accessing services which specialise in supporting those from particular communities, cultures, or require certain adjustments in order to support their own personal needs. Our Community Support page provides a wealth of external resources for specific communities and issue-specific expertise.