Watchdog plugs anti-bully code

April 23, 1999

Universities need to do more to address problems of harassment and bullying that could lead to hefty court awards against them, higher education chiefs have been warned.

While most universities have satisfactory harassment and equal opportunities policies in place, many have yet to put their action plans to work, national surveys have found.

Others need to review their harassment policies and action plans to make sure they are operating properly, according to equal opportunities watchdog the Commission on University Career Opportunity.

Cuco's new guidelines on harassment and bullying, published today, warn that: "Institutions may be liable for substantial awards at employment tribunals if they do not follow the good practice of encouraging a culture that values personal dignity and welcomes diversity, in addition to dealing reactively with incidents."

Fiona Waye, Cuco secretary, said that although records are not kept of the number of harassment and bullying cases, the size of awards against institutions appeared to be on the increase - and could grow further.

"The legislation relating to harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination provides for unlimited compensation against offending institutions. It is important for universities to address the dangers of harassment before it ever occurs," she said.

The guidelines, which will be the subject of 12 workshops being run by Cuco at universities throughout the country, suggest informal action to address harassment should include conciliation, counselling, confronting the alleged harasser, staff development and mentoring.

This should be followed by disciplinary action where necessary, but both complainants and alleged harassers will need support and advice.

Allegations should be investigated seriously and sensitively at the earliest stage, but "the possibility that allegations are malicious, vexatious or spurious cannot be ignored".

Cuco says it is now focusing more on helping institutions deal with racial harassment, and has been working in collaboration with the Commission for Racial Equality.

A spokesman for the CRE said the guidelines were to be welcomed. But he added: "It is difficult to say whether there is a growing problem because better policies can mean more cases. All we can say is that all the evidence suggests this is a problem that is not going away."

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