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Guidance notes for Ulster University staff support work based and placement learning

The University has a comprehensive policy and procedure for dealing with complaints of harassment and bullying.

The Policy applies to both staff and students, including students while they are on placement.

These guidance notes apply to paid and unpaid work placements and also to students who are studying abroad.

Where reference is made to work placement it should be considered to extend to and include study abroad.

  1. Document approved April 2010.
  2. Race/Ethnic Origin also includes colour, nationality and national origin. The Irish Travellers are recognised as being a racial group.
  3. This includes both people with, and people without dependants.

The University is committed to providing a safe and harmonious working environment in which no student or member of staff feels they are being bullied or harassed. Harassment and bullying are unacceptable and will not be permitted or condoned.

The recognised trade unions and the Students Union have been fully consulted in drawing up this policy and are all committed to its success.



Harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual/sectarian/racist nature or other conduct based on sex, sexual orientation, religious belief, political opinion, race/ethnic origin2, marital or family status3, which 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 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 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 a student is on placement (whether paid or not), the University continues to have a duty of care towards them, and may be vicariously liable in any complaint of harassment or bullying.

A student who feels they are being harassed or bullied whilst on placement may be able to make a complaint under the employer’s/placement organisation’s/educational institution’s policies, and/or the University’s policy.

Therefore, as a member of staff supporting work based and placement learning, you have certain specific responsibilities in relation to the University’s policy even while the student is on placement:

  • You should ensure that the employing company has a policy for dealing with harassment and bullying and make sure that the student is aware of it. Ideally all the organisations with whom the University places students should have comprehensive policies and procedures; if there is no written policy on harassment you should be confident that there are, nevertheless, recognised ways of dealing with complaints, and bring these to the students’ attention.
  • You must be aware of the University’s policy and procedures (in particular, equality policies and practices) and communicate these both to the students for whom you have responsibility whilst on placement and to the placement organisation; it should be included in the information pack you issue to students before they begin their placement(s). Information regarding equality policies and practices and student responsibilities should be communicated to students in placement sessions.
  • You should include a copy of the document “Bullying and Harassment – Guidelines for Students on Work-Based Learning Placements” in the information pack, and ensure that you include this in placement preparation sessions.
  • You must respond to complaints made by students while they are on placement; even though they are working for an organisation the University still has a duty of care towards a student on placement; failure to support a student who has a complaint could lead to the University, and you being held liable.
  • You must ensure that you afford fair and unbiased treatment to anyone who is making a complaint, or has been accused of bullying or harassment.

These guidelines have been developed to assist you to fulfil your responsibilities.


What do I do if one of my students tells me they are being harassed or bullied in their placement organisation?

You should ensure that s/he has a copy of the Placement Organisation’s policy and procedures and knows how to invoke those procedures if necessary. This may involve them, or you on their behalf, speaking to the Human Resources Officer (or in the absence of an HR department, to a senior member of staff) in the organisation. They may also wish to speak to one of the University’s harassment advisers.

A list of the advisers is available within our dignity at work information.

You should also contact your Head of School, and your Human Resources Consultant/Adviser or a member of the Policy Implementation Unit immediately.

What is my role?

As a member of staff supporting work based and placement learning you have a responsibility to support the student and assist in the investigation in any way you can. The student will need your support throughout the process.

The student may wish you to attend meetings with them, or to speak to the placement organisation’s Human Resources Officer, or to a senior member of staff on their behalf. You must ensure that you follow the organisation’s own harassment/bullying policy. If they do not have a written policy, you should speak to their Human Resources officer about the process.

You may seek advice from the Department of Human Resources or the Policy Implementation Unit at any time. 5

What happens if the situation is not resolved?

If the student feels that there is no possibility of resolving the matter you may need to consider assisting them to find an alternative placement. However a discontented student who simply wants a change of placement for reasons unconnected to harassment or bullying should not simply be moved. It will always be necessary therefore to ensure that a proper investigation of the complaint is carried out before you take this course of action.

What should I do if the student’s complaint is not upheld but they insist they are in the right?

You should ask the placement organisation for details of the investigation and consider if it was dealt with appropriately, and the conclusion reached seems to be just. You may still wish to consider moving the student if this would be in the best interest of all parties. If you are not happy with the investigation or feel the outcome was not justified, you should report this formally to the placement organisation. You need to consider whether this organisation is suitable for future placements. In these circumstances you should, as far as practicable, assist the student to find an alternative placement or increase contact with the student to monitor the situation.

What should I do if one of my students tells me they are being harassed but doesn’t want me to take any further action?

You have a responsibility as a member of staff supporting work based and placement learning to deal with any issue of harassment or bullying of which you are aware. The student may be reluctant to do anything because they fear it may have an effect on their future with the organisation. You need to encourage them to deal with the issue and reassure them that they will not be victimised because they made a complaint. You should also ensure that you get written confirmation from the student that they want you to take no action.

The University will ensure that appropriate awareness training is provided for all placement tutors.

For further information on this please contact Staff Development or the Policy Implementation Unit.