Human Resources

What happens if I am accused of bullying or harassment?

Informal Action

If someone approaches you informally about your behaviour, do not dismiss the complaint out of hand because you were only joking or dismiss the complainant as being too sensitive.  Remember that different people find different things acceptable and everyone has the right to decide what behaviour is acceptable to him or her and to have their feelings respected by others.  You may have offended someone without intending to.  If that is the case, the person concerned may be content with an explanation and an apology from you and an assurance that you will be careful in future not to behave in a way that you now know could cause offence.  Provided that you do not repeat the behaviour which has caused offence, this is likely to be the end of the matter.

If you are approached for this reason, it may be sensible to agree to meet to discuss the issues at a soon but later time, to give you time to consider and prepare.  When you do meet:

  • Listen to the points that are made;
  • Allow the complainant to explain the way they feel;
  • Seek clarification on what aspects of your behaviour are felt to be unacceptable;
  • Discuss how you might work together more effectively;
  • It may be a shock to be told that your behaviour has caused such a negative impact, so if you need to, ask for a break or time to consider your response;
  • Try to remain calm and avoid aggravating what is a difficult situation for both of you.

Formal Action

If however, a formal complaint is made about your behaviour, this will be fully investigated (see the Dignity at Work and Study policy – 6.2 Formal Action).   You will have the right to be informed of the allegations against you and to respond to these and to be accompanied to meetings.  

The Dignity at Work and Study policy will be implemented at the appropriate stage for the seriousness of the allegation.  If there is a case to answer and if appropriate, the College may then instigate disciplinary proceedings. 

For employees of the College, if the allegation is deemed to be at a level that could amount to gross misconduct, you may be suspended on full pay during an investigation and, if a disciplinary hearing is to be called, until disciplinary proceedings have been concluded.  For students of the College, if the allegation is deemed to be at the level of gross misconduct, you may be suspended from your studies and required not to attend at the College during the investigation and, if a disciplinary hearing is to be called, until disciplinary proceedings have been concluded.

If the complaint against you is upheld, a disciplinary penalty may be imposed up to and including dismissal (staff) or removal from the College (students), having regard to the seriousness of the offence and all relevant circumstances.  If the complaint is upheld, but you are not dismissed (staff), the College may transfer you to another post if this is appropriate or in the case of a student to a different tutor or student group.

If a complaint is made against you which is not upheld and the College has good grounds for believing that the complaint was not made in good faith, the College may take disciplinary action against the person making the false complaint.

You must not victimise a person who has made a complaint against you or anyone who has supported him or her in making the complaint or given evidence in relation to such a complaint. Disciplinary action is likely to be taken against you if the College has good reason to think that you may have victimised the complainant or someone else related to the complaint.

If the complaint against you is not upheld, Human Resources or the Deputy Head of Student Services (as appropriate) will support you, the complainant and your Line Manager/tutor in making arrangements for the resumption of a harmonious work/study environment.

Some types of bullying or harassment may constitute unlawful discrimination and allegations may give rise to the possibility of other civil claims or criminal proceedings against you, which would proceed independently of the College’s disciplinary process.  You could be personally liable to pay compensation to the complainant if a successful claim in an employment tribunal or other courts is brought against you.  Criminal proceedings could lead to conviction and criminal penalties.

Getting Support

The College recognises that responding to a complaint of bullying or harassment can be a stressful and uncomfortable experience.  Therefore, in the same way that the College suggests various avenues of support to complainants, the same mechanisms are in place for respondents.  If you are a staff member and are accused of bullying or harassment, you are encouraged to speak to your Line Manager, a D@W&S Contact, Human Resources or a trade union representative.  If a student, you are encouraged to speak to your Tutor, Course Director, a fellow student, a representative of the Students’ Union or a D@W&S Contact. 

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The HR team is based on the first floor of Egmont House
Postal address: Human Resources, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX