Bullying and harassment

Bullying and harassment are forms of abuse and will not be tolerated by International Alert under any circumstances.

The examples in the following paragraphs are not exhaustive and it is (within reason) the perception of the recipient that determines whether any action or statement can be viewed as bullying or harassment.

Where it cannot be established that there was an intention to offend, conduct will be regarded as violating a person's dignity if, taking all the circumstances into account – particularly including the recipient's views – it would be reasonable to come to that conclusion.

The damage, tension and conflict that bullying or harassment create for the individual, for teams, for the impact of our work and for our reputation cannot be underestimated. Therefore, bullying or harassment of colleagues or third parties will be promptly dealt with and may result in immediate termination of contract and other sanctions, as appropriate.


Bullying is a sustained form of psychological abuse that aims to make victims feel demeaned and inadequate. It is defined as:

Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, or an abuse or misuse of power, which has the purpose, or effect of, intimidating, belittling and humiliating the recipient, leading to loss of self-esteem for the victim and ultimately the self-questioning of their worth, both in the workplace and society as a whole.

Bullying can range from extreme and obvious forms, such as violence and intimidation, to less obvious actions, like deliberately ignoring someone.

Examples of obvious bullying:

  • shouting or swearing at people in public and private;
  • ignoring or deliberately excluding people;
  • persecution through threats and instilling fear;
  • spreading malicious rumours;
  • constantly undervaluing effort;
  • dispensing disciplinary action that is totally unjustified; and
  • spontaneous rages, often over trivial matters.

Examples of less obvious bullying:

  • withholding information or supplying incorrect information;
  • deliberately sabotaging or impeding work performance;
  • constantly changing targets;
  • setting individuals up to fail by imposing impossible deadlines;
  • removing areas of responsibility and imposing menial tasks; and
  • blocking applications for holiday, promotion or training.

Cyberbullying can be defined as the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm others. Typically, cyberbullying involves the use of the internet, email or mobile phones to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person. In many cases, the spreading of offensive jokes or shocking or sexual material via phone or email may also constitute cyber-harassment.


Harassment is unwanted conduct (ranging from relatively mild banter to actual physical violence) that intentionally or unintentionally violates a person's dignity, or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive working environment for a person.

As harassment can occur on a variety of grounds, anyone perceived to be different is at risk. In the UK, harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act (2010) and may also be a criminal offence under the:

  • Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997
  • Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001
  • Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (which cites religiously aggravated harassment as a criminal offence)

Perpetrators and managers who fail to take steps to prevent harassment, report it or investigate complaints, may be held liable for their unlawful actions.

People can be subjected to harassment on a wide variety of grounds, including:

  • sex or gender;
  • sexual orientation;
  • transsexualism (gender reassignment);
  • marital status;
  • race, nationality, ethnic origin, national origin or skin colour;
  • disability;
  • age;
  • employment status (e.g. part-time, fixed-term, permanent, self-employed, agency worker, contractor, sub-contractor, etc.);
  • membership or non-membership of a trade union;
  • the carrying out of health and safety duties;
  • religious or political beliefs;
  • deeply-held personal beliefs;
  • criminal record;
  • health (e.g. HIV/AIDS sufferers, etc.);
  • physical characteristics; and
  • willingness to challenge harassment (i.e. being ridiculed or victimised for raising a complaint).

Examples of harassment:

  • Verbal harassment: includes crude language, open hostility, offensive jokes, suggestive remarks, innuendoes, rude or vulgar comments, malicious gossip, offensive songs and making insulting gender-based remarks.
  • Non-verbal harassment: includes wolf-whistles, obscene gestures, sexually suggestive posters/calendars, pornographic material (both paper-based and generated on a computer, including offensive screensavers), and offensive graffiti, letters, emails, text messages and objects.
  • Physical harassment: includes unnecessary touching, patting, pinching, brushing against another employee's body, intimidating behaviour, assault and physical coercion.
  • Coercion: includes pressure for sexual favours (e.g. to get a job or promotion) and pressure to participate in political, religious or trade union groups, etc.
  • Isolation or non-co-operation and exclusion from social activities
  • Intrusion: includes stalking, pestering and spying.

Back to Safeguarding Policy