Victimisation and harassment
Lund University does not accept victimisation or harassment. Employees can find advice here on what to do if they are subjected to abusive conduct.
Content on this page:
- What constitutes victimisation and harassment
- Tell your manager
- What happens during an investigation
- Prohibition of reprisals
- What you can do as an employee and colleague
- Available support
What constitutes victimisation and harassment
In the everyday sense, victimisation and harassment can mean different things to different people. Under current legislation there are three types of abusive conduct that the employer must investigate, put a stop to and prevent. The work environment legislation defines victimisation, while the Discrimination Act defines harassment and sexual harassment.
When the University manages cases of abusive conduct, it is to ensure that the conduct stops and that a good work environment is reinstated for everyone at the workplace. It is not acceptable to treat anyone inappropriately. Everyone is to be treated with respect and consideration, which is in line with the University’s Work Environment Policy, Equal Opportunities Plan and Strategic Plan.
According to the Swedish Work Environment Authority’s provisions on organisational and social work environment (AFS 2015:4), victimisation refers to actions “directed in an abusive manner at one or more employees that may lead to ill health or to exclusion from the workplace community”.
This means it is not acceptable to treat anyone abusively, for example by calling them offensive names in front of others or freezing them out. Whether an action is deemed victimisation depends on the context. What you experience as acceptable behaviour may be perceived as abusive by someone else, and vice versa.
Definition of harassmen and sexual harassment
Harassment and sexual harassment are two types of discrimination under the Discrimination Act (2008:567).
Harassment is conduct that violates a person’s dignity and that is associated with one of the seven grounds of discrimination: sex, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation and age. This could pertain, for example, to employing ridicule or expressing derogatory generalisations.
Sexual harassmentis conduct of a sexual nature that violates someone’s dignity. This could pertain, for example, to unwelcome comments and words or someone groping or staring intrusively. It might also be a matter of unwelcome compliments, invitations or insinuations.
Important to speak out if someone’s conduct is unwelcome
If you are subjected to conduct that you perceive as harassment or sexual harassment, you must clearly communicate that the conduct is unwelcome. This is a requirement in the Discrimination Act. If you cannot speak out on your own when it happens, speak to your manager, and ask for assistance in clarifying that the conduct is unwelcome. You can also turn to someone else that you trust at the workplace.
Who determines whether conduct is abusive or not?
Victimisation, harassment and sexual harassment are behaviours that are undesired and unwelcome to the individual subjected to them. It is the individual subjected to the conduct who determines what is undesired, unwelcome or abusive. That does not always mean, however, that the conduct constitutes victimisation, harassment or sexual harassment. Sometimes the conduct does not fit into any of these concepts, which is a reason for an investigation to be conducted.
What constitutes discrimination
The Discrimination Act defines six types of discrimination. The two mentioned above, harassment and sexual harassment, are actions that take place between people. When a manager at Lund University becomes aware of conduct that could constitute harassment or sexual harassment, they must promptly investigate.
The other types of discrimination pertain to the different ways a person is disadvantaged by being treated worse in relation to another person with a comparable position due to sex, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation or age. For example, an individual might apply for a job but not be employed because they are “too old” or someone might not be able to access the work premises with a wheelchair or similar. Lund University is to work preventatively against both abusive conduct and disadvantaging through its systematic preventative work against discrimination.
If you feel like you have been disadvantaged by the employer in your employment at Lund University, it is important to communicate this to your manager or your manager’s line manager. The University is unable to investigate these types of discrimination, but still needs the information in order to work preventatively.
You can appeal many of the University’s decisions in different ways; for example, an appointment decision can be appealed to the Higher Education Appeals Board. You can also report discrimination to the Equality Ombudsman. Turn to your trade union for support.
Tell your manager
If you feel like you have been subjected to victimisation or harassment, you can report the event by telling your manager. If the person in question is your manager, you can report the conduct to your manager’s line manager. You can communicate what happened in a discussion with the manager, write it down or make an incident report in dialogue with the manager and with the support of the health and safety representative. There are no formal requirements for how to inform the manager. The important thing for the manager to be able to act is that they are informed of what happened and how you perceived it. If you do not know who your manager is, speak to the head of department, head of division or equivalent. You are welcome to bring someone for support, for example a union representative or health and safety representative, when you communicate what you experienced.
When the manager is made aware that something has happened that could constitute victimisation, harassment or sexual harassment, they are to start an investigation. The aim of the investigation is to determine what has happened so that the manager has sufficient information to be able to put a stop to the conduct and prevent it from happening again.
The manager can conduct the investigation personally or appoint someone else to do it. The option chosen depends on what has happened, who was affected by the event and how complicated the case is. The investigator is naturally not to have any personal connections to the individual who feels targeted or to the person being accused of the abusive conduct.
If the person in question is your manager, you can report the conduct to your manager’s line manager. Your manager’s line manager is to follow the same steps outlined here in that case.
Making an anonymous report of the conduct can give a sense of security, but it seldom leads to you getting the help you need. The manager needs to learn as much as possible about what happened to be able to put a stop to the conduct. The investigator then has to speak to the person who feels targeted to find out what they experience as abusive in as concrete terms as possible. The investigator also has to speak to the individual being accused of the conduct and be able to explain what was perceived as abusive. Sometimes the investigator has to speak to others who may have seen or heard what happened. If the investigator is unable to do this, they will not have enough documentation for the manager to take measures against the problem. In this case the manager can only work in a general and preventative way.
If you feel uncertain whether you dare to tell your manager that something has happened, consider what might make you feel more secure in the situation. You can speak to someone else, for example a union representative, health and safety representative or the Occupational Health Service, all of which can provide support in the discussion with the manager. If you trust and feel secure with your manager, you can speak to them about your concerns so that you can jointly find a way forward to improving the work environment for everyone.
What happens during an investigation
When the manager is apprised of the event, the investigation begins by the manager speaking to the individual who feels targeted. The process needs to start there so that the manager can obtain as good an idea as possible regarding what the individual experienced as abusive. An investigation can be quick and easy if the event is simple to investigate. A discussion with the individual who feels targeted and with the individual who is accused of the conduct, as well as an apology from the accused individual, may suffice to resolve the situation.
An investigation can also be extensive, complex and take a long time. If there have been multiple events over a long period of time, the investigation will require a substantial amount of time to conduct. The individuals concerned are to be given the opportunity to provide their version of events and to respond to new information in the investigation. An investigation might take a few weeks or months to conduct.
A structured investigation follows a few fundamental steps:
- The investigator speaks both to the individual who feels targeted and the individual/s accused of the conduct, separately.
- The individuals concerned are given the opportunity to comment on what the other individual/s said.
- The investigator speaks to others who may have heard and seen what has happened.
- The investigator collects other information, for example emails.
- The investigator analyses the documentation – is it possible to follow the course of events?
- The investigator assesses the event – is it some type of abusive conduct in the legal sense?
- The investigator writes a report describing their investigation process and reasoning.
- The investigator shares their findings with the manager who ordered the investigation and potentially with the individuals concerned.
If you are party to an investigation, you will receive more information from the investigator at every step.
Expectations of an investigation
There is generally an expectation of a clear result when an individual feels targeted. The individual subjected to the conduct often desires some form of redress, for example that the person in question is punished, which is natural. An investigation into victimisation, harassment and sexual harassment, however, will not lead to punishment since it is not a criminal investigation. The aim of the investigation is to determine whether or not the conduct constitutes harassment, sexual harassment or victimisation. Sometimes the investigator will not be able to determine what has happened, which means they cannot determine whether the conduct is to be deemed abusive.
The investigation is to provide the manager with sufficient information to implement measures to address the situation and put a stop to the abusive conduct. What is required to reinstate a good work environment depends on the circumstances. Both you and your colleagues are obliged to help to achieve a good work environment.
Most cases of established abusive conduct lead to a discussion in which the employee who is guilty of the conduct is reprimanded. The individual is then given a chance to show that they understand and to stop the behaviour.
Factors in the organisational and social work environment are sometimes behind the situation. In this case, the manager and all employees are to jointly remedy what has gone awry, for example by clarifying roles or procedures at the workplace. The measures may continue for as long as necessary.
An investigation can give different results
An investigation does not always provide a clear result. Sometimes it can be difficult to obtain all of the information necessary to determine what has transpired, and who said or did what and when. In these cases, the investigation cannot determine whether what happened is some type of victimisation or harassment since it is not entirely clear what has happened. However, the investigation can still show that there are relationship problems between those involved or that work environment factors need to be addressed. The manager, together with the employees, must continue efforts to improve the work environment using the information and knowledge provided by the investigation.
When an investigation leads to a determination of what happened, and who said what and when, the investigator can assess the event on the basis of the legislation. In this case, the investigator can conclude whether or not the incident constitutes victimisation, harassment or sexual harassment. If the event is deemed to be some type of abusive conduct, the manager is to implement measures to prevent the conduct from recurring. Regardless of the investigation’s results, the manager is to remedy the work environment both for the individual who feels targeted and the individual accused of the abusive conduct.
Prohibition of reprisals
Neither your employer nor a representative of your employer may subject you to reprisals if you have called your manager’s attention to harassment or sexual harassment or reported that your employer has violated the Discrimination Act.
The protection also applies when someone participates in an investigation in accordance with the Discrimination Act or has rejected or given in to harassment or sexual harassment.
Reprisals might include the non-extension of an employment contract, a low salary increase, having too much or too little to do and not being allowed to attend conferences that are important for your work.
If you have been accused of potentially subjecting someone to abusive conduct, you may not subsequently treat that person inappropriately. Doing so may constitute misconduct.
What you can do as an employee and colleague
You can also act if you are an employee and the colleague of someone who feels subjected to abusive conduct or someone who has been accused of the conduct.
You can tell your manager if you see and/or hear something that could be perceived as abusive conduct.
Since both the individual who feels targeted and the person accused of the conduct are likely to remain in the work environment during and after the investigation, it is helpful if you as a colleague can maintain a neutral relationship with both of them. If you can serve as support without choosing sides or judging anyone, that is positive.
Do not spread rumours and do not speak ill of a colleague in front of others. Doing so only makes the situation worse for everyone and damages the work environment even more.
You can obtain support and advice from your trade union. Your health and safety representative can also provide support and advice.
Your manager can help you seek counselling through the Occupational Health Service or procured consultants. You can also turn to your manager’s line manager if need be.
If required, you can contact the national healthcare service through links on this page.
Contact your line manager, the human resources officer, health and safety representative or equivalent within your department/faculty or equivalent.
- The Discrimination Act, on the website of the Equality Ombudsman
- Read more about harassment and sexual harassment on the website of the Equality Ombudsman
- Organisational and Social Work Environment Act (AFS 2015:4) on the Swedish Work Environment Authority’s website
- Lund University’s gender equality and equal opportunities work
- Equal Opportunities Plan for Lund University 2022-2027 (PDF 329 kB, new tab)
- Lund University’s Work Environment Policy (PDF 504 kB, new tab)
- Reporting occupational injuries and incidents at Lund University
- Platform for Strategic Work 2023-2024, Lund University (PDF, new tab)
- Strategic Plan for Lund University 2017-2026 PDF, new tab)