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Acceptable behaviour

The University expects that all employees will conduct themselves in a professional manner when interacting with others or when managing colleagues.  All members of the University should consider their own behaviour and the impact that this can have on others.  The University recognises that personalities, characters and management styles may differ but, notwithstanding these differences, as a minimum standard all staff are expected to:

  • Work co-operatively with others in order to achieve objectives

  • Manage performance in an appropriate and fair manner

  • Give and receive constructive feedback as part of normal day-to-day work.Such feedback should be evidence-based and delivered in an appropriate manner

  • Consider other people’s perspectives in order to help reach agreement

  • Establish good working relationships.

The University has a framework of behavioural attributes which communicates the behaviours that are valued in the University of Cambridge. Details can be found here

Unacceptable behaviour

Unacceptable behaviour (including bullying, harassment and victimisation), may involve actions, words or physical gestures that could reasonably be perceived to be the cause of another person’s distress or discomfort.   Bullying or harassment may be by an individual against an individual or involve groups of people.

The University defines behaviour as being unacceptable if:

  • It is unwanted by the recipient.

  • It has the purpose or effect of violating the recipient’s dignity and/or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, and

  • Having regard to all the circumstances, including the recipient’s perception, it was reasonabe for the behaviour to have that effect.

Unacceptable behaviour does not have to be face-to-face, and may take many forms such as written, telephone or e-mail communications or through social media.  For the University’s policy on Acceptable use of computer facilities email and the internet go to

If a third party who is not a member of the University staff (for example, a customer, a supplier or a visitor) behaves in an unacceptable manner, this should be reported to the relevant Head of Institution who will determine an appropriate course of action to deal with the issue.  If the Head of Institution is not able to resolve the issue, the complaint will be taken forward by the Director of Human Resources.

Some examples of unacceptable behaviour are:

  • Aggressive or abusive behaviour, such as shouting or personal insults

  • Spreading malicious rumours or gossip, or insulting someone

  • Discrimination or harassmentwhen related to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010

  • Unwanted physical contact

  • Stalking

  • Offensive comments/jokes or body language

  • Publishing, circulating or displaying pornographic, racist, sexually suggestive or otherwise offensive material or pictures

  • Isolation, deliberate exclusion and/or non co-operation at work

  • Persistent and unreasonable criticism

  • Unreasonable demands and impossible targets

  • Coercion, such as pressure to subscribe to a particular political or religious belief

Bullying and Harassment

Unacceptable behaviour may contravene equalities and/or other legislation.

Whilst bullying and harassment will always be deemed to be forms of unacceptable behaviour, the two terms have distinct and separate legal meanings.

Harassment is connected to anti-discrimination legislation.  Therefore if an individual is on the receiving end of unacceptable behaviour which relates to their sex, race, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion or belief or gender reassignment (collectively known as ‘the protected characteristics’), this will be deemed to be harassment.  Harassment may be established from a single event and a series or pattern of behaviour is not necessary in order to establish that an individual has suffered harassment.

Individuals are also protected from harassment based on someone else’s protected characteristic, or based on the perception that they have a protected characteristic .

Harassment, as defined in the Equality Act 2010, 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.

Bullying is a broader concept which may generally be characterised as: offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient (ACAS).  For bullying to be established, there will generally be a series of pattern of events in which one individual has demonstrated unacceptable behaviour towards another individual.

With regards to both harassment and bullying, the unacceptable behaviour may be overt (for example, verbal abuse/threats/physical violence) or it may be more subtle and insidious.  In either case, unacceptable behaviour is a breach of the University’s Dignity at Work Policy and should be reported in accordance with the Dignity at Work Policy,


Victimisation is unfavourable treatment of a person (‘the victim’) to a detriment because they have:

  • brought discrimination (including harassment) proceedings or given evidence or information in connection with such proceedings

  • done anything other thing in connection with discrimination (including harassment) proceedings

  • made an allegation (whether expressly or otherwise) of discrimination or harassment

  • or because it is suspected that the victim has done or intends to do any of these things.

Unfavourable treatment of a complainant or a Dignity @Work Contact or a witness in relation to a dignity at work complaint which relates to a protected characteristic is likely to be victimisation.

The University will not tolerate victimisation and a perpetrator will be subject to disciplinary action which may result in action up to and including dismissal or expulsion from the University.

What does not constitute Unacceptable Behaviour?

For the avoidance of doubt and for the purposes of this policy, invoking University procedures connected to areas such as conduct, capability or discipline where such procedures are applied reasonably and appropriately will not constitute unacceptable behaviour. 

It is important to note that behaviour that is considered bullying by one person may be considered acceptable by another. For instance, legitimate, constructive and fair feedback on a member of staff’s performance or behaviour at work is not bullying. 

Isolated incidents of unreasonable behaviour such as abruptness, sharpness or rudeness whilst unacceptable, will generally not be considered to amount to bullying.  However, individuals may want to let the other person know how their behaviour has made them feel in order to avoid a repeat of such behaviour.  If the behaviour does continue over a period of time this may be considered to be bullying/harassment.

If a complaint brought under the Dignity at Work Policy is judged to be vexatious or malicious, disciplinary action may be taken against the complainant.  However, please note that disciplinary action will not be taken if a complaint made in good faith is judged to be unfounded.

Criminal offences

Some forms of unacceptable behaviour may be serious enough to constitute a criminal offence.

If the University becomes aware that an employee has (or may have) committed an offence the University may report its concerns to the police or other authorities, as appropriate.

Where matters are reported to the police, whether by an individual or the University, internal investigations and disciplinary action may still take place, whether or not the police decide to proceed. However, in some cases there may have to be a delay whilst police investigations are carried out.

Contacting the Police:  In an emergency dial 999.  Other contact details for the Cambridgeshire Police can be found on their web-site.