Office of the President and Provost (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion)


UCL Dignity at Work Statement

1. Summary

All employees are entitled to:

  • a workplace free from bullying, intimidation, harassment or victimisation
  • be treated with dignity, respect and courtesy
  • experience no form of unlawful discrimination
  • be valued for their skills and abilities.

Staff responsiblities:

  • They must ensure that they behave in an appropriate manner, showing respect for staff, students and others working alongside or engaged with the UCL community
  • They must be aware of their behaviour. Inappropriate behaviour may be verbal or written, intentional or unintentional. Comments or actions made outside the standard workplace, such as on work related social events or via social media, that impact on work can be subject to UCL disciplinary procedures
  • Managers have particular responsibility for setting standards and ensuring appropriate workplace behaviours are maintained. They should set a good example and ensure concerns raised are acted upon
  • They must appropriately challenge inappropriate behaviour and raise concerns with managers so that these can be dealt with
  • Support and advice is available for staff experiencing or witnessing bullying, harassment or discrimination. 

1. This statement applies to all employees of UCL. The principles of the statement extend to our expectations of contractors, honorary visitors, and others in the UCL Community. UCL is committed to equality of opportunity and will not tolerate the harassment intimidation or bullying of one member of its community by another. This is underpinned by the UCL 2020 Strategy and one of UCL's key enablers of 'Valuing our staff and delivering on equality and diversity.' The UCL Students Union have a 'Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment' webpage, and departments are encouraged to engage with the Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment department pledge

1.1. All employees are entitled to (see above).

1.2. The purpose of this statement is to assist in maintaining a healthy working environment where unacceptable behaviour is easily identified, challenged and stopped. It is intended that this will improve staff performance, raise morale, reduce stress and aid retention. 

2. Definition of Terms

2.1. Unacceptable behaviour is any behaviour that is unwanted, unwelcome and undermines an individual's dignity at work. This includes behaviour that unreasonably threatens job security, promotion prospects or that creates an intimidating working environment. Behaviour may be perceived as unacceptable, even if there was no intent to cause offence. Behaviour may also have overtones that a member of staff finds offensive, even if it was not directed at them. 

2.2. Discriminatory behaviour can occur on the basis of perceived group membership, affiliation or association. The Equality Act 2010 legally protects those who share 'protected characteristics' from discrimination on the basis of their shared characteristic. These are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race (including ethnic origin, nationality and colour), religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Transgender staff includes staff who have undergone, are undergoing or intend to undergo gender reassignment. 

2.3. Unacceptable behaviour can take many forms and can range from physical attack to more subtle conduct such as remarks or jokes. It can also include behaviour which deliberately or inadvertently excludes individuals from normal activities in the workplace, such as invitations to and participation at meetings. 

2.4. Unacceptable behaviour includes, but is not limited to bullying, harassment and victimisation.

2.5. Bullying may be characterised as: offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, or an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. 

2.6. Harassment is 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. 

2.7. Victimisation is a term used in discrimination law to describe action by an employer against an employee, in retaliation for involvement in bringing, or supporting, a complaint of discrimination.

2.8. Online behaviour is considered equivalent to face-to-face behaviour. Staff must not engage in any conduct online that would not be acceptable in the workplace or that is unlawful. For example, making derogatory remarks, bullying, intimidating or harassing other users, using insults or posting content that is hateful, slanderous, threatening, discriminatory or pornographic. This includes conduct that impacts on work using social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook or personal blogs), which may have been written out of working hours or using personal equipment. 

2.9. If someone approaches a manager within their reporting hierarchy e.g. their manager or their line manager's manager, and that manager ignores/dismisses/refuses to acknowledge/discuss issues of bullying, harassment or victimisation then they may be seen as complicit in any such act (in that they are allowing it to continue). It is noted that a manager would not be expected to act against the wishes of the person experiencing unacceptable behaviour, unless there are overriding health and safety reasons (including personal safety). 

3. Examples of unacceptable behaviour

3.1. Examples of unacceptable behaviour that are covered by this statement include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Persons in authority who abuse their position by assuming a threatening or intimidating management style (e.g. in a round-table meeting: ignoring people who are waiting to make a contribution to the meeting, cutting people off whilst they are speaking, aggressive questioning, being dismissive of them and their suggestions, excluding relevant people from departmental plans and communications).
  • Harassment on the grounds of gender identity may be aimed at transgender staff. An example of demeaning behaviour could be speculating or gossiping about someone's perceived gender identity, refusing to use someone's preferred gendered pronoun (e.g. using 'he' to refer to a trans woman) or continuing to use their former name ('deadnaming').
  • Practices which are discriminatory or potentially discriminatory that do not count as legitimate action and have the effect of excluding people (e.g. regularly holding a team meeting outside of core hours i.e. before 10:00 or after 16:00, which can be potentially discriminatory against those with caring responsibility for dependants.)

  • Excluding someone in a team from work-related social activities.
  • Not providing equal development opportunities or promotional prospects, being unlawfully discriminatory in recruitment practices or appointing staff in a non-transparent way.
  • Harassment on the grounds of a person's sexual orientation may be aimed at heterosexual people but is more usually experienced by gay men, lesbians and bisexuals.  Examples of harassment relating to sexual orientation are homophobic or biphobic remarks or jokes, offensive comments relating to a person's sexual orientation and threats to disclose a person's sexual orientation to others.  The response to such harassment may also be complicated by the fact that in order to complain about it or confront it, the people targeted may feel the need to be open about their sexual orientation with work colleagues (perhaps for the first time).
  • Allocating staff unreasonable workloads that require an individual to work excessive hours for sustained periods, or scheduling work without due consideration of the need for meal breaks or inter-campus travel.   
  • Unwelcome jokes or personal comments.
  • Sexual harassment, which can include (but is not limited to) unwanted sexual comments or comments about someone’s body, unwelcome innuendos, wolf whistling, groping, tugging or lifting someone’s clothing, or stalking.
  • Not giving due consideration and/or explanation of refusal to reasonable requests covered by UCL policy, such as flexible working / leave.
  • Overtly or covertly recording colleagues in order to gather evidence that may be used against them.
  • Physical conduct ranging from unwelcome touching to serious assault.

4. What is acceptable behaviour?

4.1. All staff are expected to treat each other with respect, dignity, and courtesy. This involves positive communication, building trust, being supportive, understanding different perspectives and working collaboratively. UCL Human Resources provides useful guidance on email etiquette

4.2. Acceptable Behaviour, in this context, also includes proportionate actions by a manager to support and encourage an employee to perform against key objectives and to manage performance appropriately. There may be for example legitimate reasons to restrict leave or conference attendance at certain times to ensure staff do not miss more important departmental commitments, and this approach should be applied equally to all staff. It also includes legitimate actions taken within the disciplinary or other formal procedures.

4.3. UCL's Core Behaviours Framework also gives clear reference to the type and range of behaviours that are expected within the workplace.

5. Responsibility for Dignity at Work

5.1. Achieving dignity and respect at work requires a collaborative effort by managers and employees.

5.2. Managers are responsible for ensuring that they:

  • communicate to all their staff the behaviours expected of them, and set boundaries
  • intervene to stop unacceptable behaviour
  • provide a supportive working environment 
  • report allegations of bullying and harassment to their manager (or appropriate manager), Head of Department or their HR Advisory Services contact
  • set a good example by their own behaviour. 

5.3. All staff have a responsibility to help create and maintain a work environment free of bullying and harassment. Everyone has the right to assist in stopping unacceptable behaviour by:

  • treating colleagues with dignity and respect
  • understanding how your own behaviour may affect others and if necessary changing it
  • intervening if possible to stop unacceptable behaviour and giving support to recipients
  • making it clear to colleagues if you find their behaviour unacceptable and explain why
  • reporting it to your manager or HR and supporting the investigation of the complaint. 

6. General principles

6.1. Talking about unacceptable standards of behaviour can be daunting, but UCL is committed to listening to and addressing complaints. Dignity at Work Advisors are available to talk through options confidentially before you decide how to proceed.

6.2. Managers and employees should always try to resolve problems in the work place at the earliest possible opportunity and usually with the least possible formality. Managers and employees should act consistently. If it is felt the behaviour is sufficiently serious that it cannot be resolved informally, or unacceptable behaviour continues after it has been discussed informally with the person acting inappropriately, it will be necessary to use the formal procedure. 

7. Informal approach to tackling unacceptable behaviour

7.1. It is often possible to sort out matters informally, particularly if the person does not know that his or her behaviour is unwelcome or upsetting. An informal discussion may help them to understand the effect of their behaviour and agree to change it.

7.2. People who witness unacceptable behaviour, as well as those who experience it directly, have the right to raise concerns. Some people feel able to approach the person on their own, or with the help of a Dignity at Work Advisor, Human Resources Advisory Services contact, a manager, trade union representative or another employee. When raising a concern, politely tell the person what they have said or done that is offensive and unwelcome, and ask them to stop it immediately. It could be added that, if the behaviour continues, a formal complaint may be made.

7.3. It is advised that those who experience unacceptable behaviour keep a record of any incidents that occur or attempts to address the issue, such as noting the dates, times, circumstances and names of any witnesses. This will be useful in the event that they need to use the formal route to deal with the problem. 

7.4. If a member of staff is approached and told that their behaviour could be construed as bullying and harassment, they should be prepared to listen patiently and calmly to the situation. Whilst it may be upsetting, they should allow the other member of staff to express their concerns, and then try to reach common ground to remedy the situation and allow a normal working relationship to be resumed. 

8. What to do if a colleague wants to discuss a concern about your behaviour with you

8.1. Do not ignore a complaint because you were only joking, or decide the complainant was being too sensitive. Everyone has the right to decide that behaviour is acceptable to them and to have their feelings respected by others - since you may have offended someone without intending to. If that is the case, the person concerned may be willing to accept an apology from you and an assurance that you will be careful to avoid behaving in a way that might knowingly cause offence again.

8.2. Provided that you do not repeat the behaviour which has caused offence, this is likely to be the end of the matter. It can be, and should be, seen as a useful learning experience about the effect of your behaviour on others, and therefore an opportunity for self-realisation and improvement. 

8.3. If you are approached for this reason you can meet with them at once or agree to meet to discuss the issues in the next couple of days, to give you time to reflect. 

8.4. When you meet:

  • Listen to the points that are made without interrupting or getting defensive
  • 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 about the effects of your behaviour, 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
  • Apologise, if appropriate. 

9. Procedure for making a formal complaint

9.1. The UCL Staff Grievance Policy provides the framework and mechanism for staff to formally address unacceptable behaviour and to have any complaints resolved.

10. What to do if you are accused formally of bullying or harassment

10.1. If a formal complaint is made about your behaviour it will be fully investigated and dealt with in accordance with the UCL Staff Grievance Policy, which may result in disciplinary action.

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

10.3. Human Resources will support you, the complainant and your manager in making arrangements for the recommencement of a harmonious work environment. 

11. Support and training

11.1. All Dignity at Work Advisors receive briefing on the implementation of this statement.

11.2. Additional support and advice is available from the Employee Assistance Programme, mediation service or trade union representatives. There are workshops on the OD Professional Development Programme that may be helpful, such as Conflict Resolution Skills, Resilience and Resourcefulness and Assertiveness. Additional resources are available on the desktop learning section of the OD website

11.3. Further information is available on our Training page.

12. Confidentiality

12.1. Confidentiality is very important in dealing with cases of alleged unacceptable behaviour and information should only be divulged to relevant people on a 'need-to-know' basis. Anyone approaching a manager for advice may however wish to be accompanied by a work colleague.