Harassment and bullying advice for students on work-based and placement learning

Guidelines to assist and support any student who believes they may be being subjected to harassment or bullying whilst on a work-based learning placement.

The aim of these guidelines is to assist and support any student who believes they may be being subjected to harassment or bullying whilst on a work-based learning placement. They aim to define harassment and bullying, to outline the rights and responsibilities of both students and the University in such circumstances, and to point students towards the appropriate sources of advice.

It is widely recognised that both bullying and harassment detract from a productive working and learning environment and can affect the health, integrity, confidence, morale and performance of those affected by it, including those who witness or know about such unwanted behaviour. This can have a direct impact on the motivation and attendance of staff and students, and consequently on the productivity and economic efficiency of the organisation. It therefore makes sense for employers to have a policy on Bullying and Harassment and to know how to respond to complaints.

Harassment in any form is unacceptable behaviour and should not be permitted or condoned by any employer. Sexual, sectarian and racial harassment and harassment on the grounds of disability or sexual orientation constitute discrimination and are unlawful under the sex discrimination, fair employment, race relations and disability and sexual orientation legislation. Harassment is also a criminal offence under the Protection from Harassment (NI) Order 1997 and it may contravene the Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978. Moreover since October 2006 harassment on the grounds of age is also unlawful.

Definitions

Harassment

Harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual/sectarian/racist nature or other conduct based on

  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • religious belief
  • political opinion
  • race/ethnic origin
    • Race/Ethnic Origin also includes colour, nationality and national origin.
    • The Irish Travellers are recognised as being a racial group.
  • marital or family status
    • This includes both people with, and people without dependants.

Harassment has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of women and men or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Harassment can also be unwanted conduct aimed at an individual’s disability or based on an individual’s age, social status or Trades Union membership.

Harassment can include unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct. Such behaviour is unacceptable where it is unwanted, unreasonable and offensive to the recipient. It is also important to note that it is the purpose or effect of the behaviour which must be considered, even when there may have been no intention to subject someone to harassment.

Some examples are given below but many forms of behaviour can constitute harassment.

  • Physical conduct ranging from inappropriate touching to serious assault;
  • Oral and written harassment through jokes, offensive language, racist remarks, gossip and slander, sectarian songs, threats, letters;
  • Visual displays such as of posters, graffiti, obscene gestures, flags, buntings or emblems or any offensive material, including electronically generated material;
  • Isolation or non-co-operation at work, exclusion from social activities or conversation;
  • Coercion, including pressure for sexual favours, pressure to participate in political/ religious groups;
  • Intrusion by pestering, spying, following etc.

Bullying

Bullying is unacceptable, offensive behaviour.

It is often an abuse of power or position where the targets can experience difficulty in defending themselves.

It can be defined as unfair treatment, excessive criticism, or persistent nit-picking, intimidating, aggressive or undermining behaviour, which makes the recipient(s), feel upset, humiliated, threatened or vulnerable and undermines their self-confidence and integrity. Some examples could include a combination of:

  • Aggression, threats and shouting;
  • Constant belittling, marginalising or ridiculing;
  • Excessive criticism about minor things;
  • Inappropriate removal of areas of responsibility, or deliberately impeding the work of another employee;
  • Excessive monitoring of someone’s work or inaccurate accusations about quality of work;
  • Public humiliation;
  • Taking credit for someone’s work but never taking the blame if something goes wrong;
  • Twisting things someone says or does;
  • Withholding information from or deliberately supplying incorrect information to employees so they are less able to do their job;
  • Setting impossible objectives or constantly changing someone’s work remit;
  • Isolation or non-co-operation at work, exclusion from social activities or conversation;
  • Spreading malicious rumours;
  • Failure to deal with the issue of an individual consistently being given an excessive workload compared with colleagues;
  • Preventing individuals from progressing, by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities.

Bullying can also be more subtle and insidious, and can gradually wear someone down.

Often it takes place when there are no witnesses, and the victim is afraid to complain through fear of not being believed and of the bullying getting worse. Bullying has an extremely negative effect on the individual and ultimately on the organisation and can cause stress and anxiety which can lead to physical ill health and mental distress.

The University will therefore investigate any complaints of bullying thoroughly.

Your Responsibilities whilst on a Work-based Learning Placement

As an employee at your work-based learning organisation, you have a responsibility to comply with the policies and procedures of that organisation. This includes the Policy on Bullying and/or Harassment, where one exists3. You also have a personal responsibility to help to ensure a working environment in which the dignity of employees is respected.

If the employer does not have a formal policy on bullying and/or harassment you should ascertain if there is a grievance procedure or other formal complaints procedure, Harassment is likely to be covered by legislation, whether or not a formal policy exists.

In the course of your induction in your work placement make sure you obtain a copy of all relevant policies, including a policy on bullying and harassment, if the organisation has one. It is recognised that smaller organisations may not have formal policies and procedures but this will not preclude you from making a complaint should you need to at a later stage.

You should discourage bullying and harassment by making it clear that you find such behaviour unacceptable and by supporting colleagues (including a fellow student) who suffer such treatment. Anyone being subjected to bullying or harassment, or who is aware of any such incidents (or alleged incidents) is encouraged to alert a manager, industrial supervisor to any incident of bullying or harassment to enable the organisation to deal with the matter.

As an employee you also have a responsibility towards your colleagues and if you witness an incident of bullying or harassment you may be required to give a statement and to be interviewed in the course of an investigation.

Your Rights

Whether or not the organisation has a formal policy for dealing with such matters you have the right to work in an environment which is free from any form of bullying or harassment. You also have a right to raise a complaint should you feel you are being bullied and harassed, and to expect the organisation to deal with that complaint appropriately.

Ultimately you also have legal rights under the various pieces of legislation referred to in the Introduction.

The University’s Responsibilities

The University has a responsibility to you whilst you are a student. In the periods other than those covered by work placements, this responsibility is outlined by the University Policy on Bullying and Harassment.

Whilst you are on a work placement the University continues to have a duty of care for you but as you are an employee of another organisation, internal University policies are not applicable. However University staff are still available to give you advice and assistance should you feel your are the victim of either harassment or bullying within your work placement organisation.

What to do if you feel you may be being harassed or bullied in your work placement

Firstly, you should be aware that you do not have to deal with the situation on your own. There are a number of sources of help.

University Harassment Advisors

University Harassment Advisors have been appointed to provide students (and staff) with advice and assistance.

An advisor can be contacted on a confidential basis at any time. The names and locations of advisors can be obtained from the Policy Implementation Unit and from your Faculty/School office.

Advice from Academic Staff

Academic staff will deal with queries about bullying and harassment confidentially, unless and until you want them to involve a third party. Making a complaint or enquiring about the process for dealing with bullying or harassment will have no effect on your marks.

All academic staff are required to attend a basic equality awareness training/development. These guidelines have also been disseminated to all placement tutors and academic supervisors and other staff involved in work based and placement learning so that they will know how to respond to a request for advice from you.

A member of University staff cannot resolve a complaint of bullying or harassment on your behalf because they would have no jurisdiction to do so in the organisation in which you are employed.

However they will provide you with advice about the steps open to you. For example, they can assist you to find out if there are procedures in place in the organisation.

They should signpost you to the right person in the organisation who will know how such matters are dealt with. They also can accompany you to any meetings in connection with your complaint to offer you support.

They can also give you details about university counselling services.

University Counselling

At any stage you can contact the University’s counselling service (Carecall). You can contact the service on: 0800 028 5510 (24 hour Freephone service)

Or at: ulsterstudents@carecallwellbeing.com

The service is free and confidential.

Students Union

You may also wish to contact the Students’ Union for advice and support. Both staff and officers have received training in the University’s Bullying and Harassment Policy and can assist you in dealing with these issues. Contact details are available at http://uusu.org/contact

Final Note

Your placement year should be a valuable, fulfilling and enjoyable experience and in all likelihood yours will be just this.

The majority of work-based placements are completed successfully without any issues arising in relation to harassment or bullying.

However theses guidelines have been drawn up to assist you, in the unlikely event that you find yourself in a position where you feel you may be subject to behaviour of this kind.