Dignity & RespectGuidance on investigating complaints

Conducting the investigation

  • be impartial
  • focus on the facts
  • obtain full statements from both parties and any witnesses
  • conduct the interviews as soon as possible after the complaint has been lodged with you

The complaint will need to be recorded in writing and should include the following:

  • clear specific allegations against named people
  • dates, times and witnesses (if appropriate)
  • factual descriptions of events rather than assumptions or opinions
  • direct quotes if they are remembered and relevant 
  • a brief description of the context of the incident(s)
  • an indication of how each incident made the complainant feel
  • an explanation why s/he considers the behaviour amounts to harassment if this is unclear
  • details of how the complainant has shown the harassment to be unwelcome
  • any other documentary evidence


  1. Be sensitive to the feelings of the complainant and recognise her/his feelings even if you personally do not think them justified. The complainant will probably find it difficult to talk about the incident to a third party. Talking and being questioned about it can be a further form of stress and you should be aware of this and deal with it appropriately.
  2. Avoid questions which might imply that the complainant may have consciously or unconsciously invited the harassment. This is a form of harassment itself and could add to the stress of comments about a person's clothes etc.
  3. Avoid pre-judging until you have heard from both parties eg avoid suggesting that the behaviour was a joke or an attempt to be friendly.
  4. Bear in mind that the complainant's personal or working relationships with anyone other than the alleged harasser are irrelevant. Just because behaviour is acceptable by one person does not mean it is necessarily accepted by another. The criterion to be applied is whether the action by the alleged harasser was unwelcome to the recipient.
  5. Repeating the facts can be embarrassing or upsetting for the complainant so it is advisable to get a written statement of events which would enable you to refrain from repeating questions.
  6. Always encourage the complainant to have someone with them during the interview and fact finding process. This could be one of the University's trained Advisers or another colleague, student or friend.
  7. If appropriate you may wish to suggest using services of professional counsellors. For members of staff this can be accessed via the appropriate Personnel Officer; for students contact the Student Advisory and Counselling Service or the Students Association Welfare staff.
  1. The alleged harasser has rights which must be respected, and they must not be prejudged without being given the opportunity to present their side of the story. They may also suffer stress when an allegation of harassment is made against them. It is important they are made aware of the full details of the complaint when you have obtained a full statement from the complainant and any witnesses.
  2. Avoid any implication that you condone the behaviour complained of or that the complainant was being over sensitive.
  3. Any past conduct cited by the alleged harasser as being 'welcome' to the recipient must be related to the harasser only. Any instances of similar behaviour by others towards the complainant, or by the alleged harasser apparently welcomed by others, is  irrelevant and the alleged harasser should be made aware of this. What is acceptable, for example, as a friendly hug from one person may be perceived as unwelcome physical contact from another.
  4. They may also wish to be accompanied by a colleague, student or friend during the interview and fact finding process.
  5. It may be appropriate to offer the services of a professional counsellor and this can be accessed as in number 7 above.
  1. The alleged harasser may not have realised that their behaviour was unwelcome. In this case a request to stop, with an explanation of the University policy and that it is up to the complainant to decide what behaviour is unwelcome, may be enough to resolve the situation. It should be made clear that if the alleged harasser persists with the unwelcome behaviours/he will face disciplinary action.
  2. In some cases conciliation by yourself or a third party may help each person see the other's point of view and help re-establish working relationships. However, no attempt should be made to bring the parties together unless they have expressly agreed to do so.
  3. There may be occasions when the alleged harasser denies the harassment complained of. As there will generally be no witnesses this can be difficult to deal with. Resolution may depend on you assessing the credibility of the people involved (taking care not to be influenced by your own biases or preconceived ideas of what harassment is or is not). You could obtain other corroborative evidence to support the complaint eg recent observed changes of behaviour by the complainant, or the observed behaviour of the alleged harasser towards other individuals. All information gathered in these circumstances should be documented with dates and signed by the witnesses.
  4. If, in your view, the allegations are well founded and serious enough that disciplinary action should be considered the matter should be referred, in accordance with the University's Harassment Policy, to either the Director of Personnel (where the alleged harasser is a member of staff) or the University Secretary (where the alleged harasser is a student or sub-contractor). Any disciplinary action will be determined in accordance with the appropriate agreed disciplinary procedures.
  5. In all cases, both the complainant and the alleged harasser should be kept informed of the progress of the investigation and advised of its outcome.