How to act in harassment situations

In this chapter, we will deal with harassment cases and present some instructions on how to process the situations. We will first go through instructions for those who have experienced harassment and for those accused of harassment. After this, we will explain how organisations can process harassment situations.

3. Processing harassment cases in organisations

3.6. Sanctions

If the harassment or inappropriate behaviour does not end despite discussions, the organisation may need to start thinking about sanctions. Before this, however, you should discuss matters with both parties and try to get the unwanted behaviour to stop. If the problem cannot be resolved through discussion, it may be a good idea to try an oral or written warning. The function of the warning is to provide the person with one last chance to change their behaviour. If neither discussion nor warning works, or if both have already been tried and the problems still persists, the organisation may consider more severe action.

To begin with, we only recommend handing a temporary ban to the organisation’s events and activities. People should be given the opportunity to learn and change their behaviour, and a temporary ban may sometimes serve as a wake-up call. If the inappropriate behaviour continues after the temporary ban has ended, the organisation could consider expelling the member from the organisation.

Stipulations on banning people and taking other disciplinary action is primarily provided in the association’s (or student nation’s) rules. If the rules mention anything on how to decide these kinds of matters, it is crucial to follow them even if they conflict with this guide. Generally speaking, a person should be able to know what kind of sanctions their activities may result in. The association’s rules or a regulation referred to in the rules should state what kind of sanctions the association has at its disposal. This is recommended for the legal protection of both the party handing out the sanctions and the party receiving them.

Here is an example of how a decision on banning a person could be made in an organisation:

  1. The board meeting in which the matter is discussed is decided. Before the meeting, all parties are requested to provide a report either in writing or verbally. This request should mention the following:
    • We want to consult you on the incident in question.
    • The board will process the matter in its meeting on xx.xx.xxxx (date).
    • It may also be a good idea to set a deadline for the report. After this deadline has passed, the board may consider the person unwilling to resolve the matter. Two weeks is usually considered a reasonable time limit, but this depends on the situation.
  2. The board needs to have a prior understanding of what matters it will be deciding on, what should be recorded and why all this is done.
    • Who are present in the meeting?
    • Is anyone present in the meeting disqualified?
      • If there is any suspicion of anyone participating in making the decision being disqualified, you should ask about it directly.
    • What are you trying to achieve with the decision?
      • E.g. ‘The association wants to guarantee that its members have a safe operating environment and feels that this is not possible without restricting member Z’s right to participate in the association’s activities due to reasons X and Y.’
    • What is the decision?
    • What are the justifications of the decision?
    • When will the decision take effect? Is it temporary or indefinite?
      • Will the decision take effect immediately, once the minutes are published or once the relevant parties are informed of the decision – or at some other point?
    • You should also agree on how you will inform the concerned parties of the decision.
  3. After the decision has been made, the parties should be informed of it (e.g. by calling them, telling them face to face, messaging them or emailing them). When informing them of the decision, it is very important to briefly explain the justifications for the decision and, if needed, offer to discuss the matter further face to face.
  4. As the board’s decision is public (or, at least, can easily spread publicly because the relevant parties must be informed of it), it may be a good idea to make an appendix to the minutes on the situation, available by request from the meeting’s secretary, for instance. This way, the name of the person receiving the sanction will not be mentioned in the minutes, with all personal information in the appendices instead. This allows the minutes to remain public and truthfully describe the decision but keeps the details from being immediately available for sharing, which increases perceived safety. It is also possible to declare the minutes as a whole confidential.