University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


HR manager: This is what the zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment means

Policy — Lisbeth Møller, Deputy Director for HR at UCPH explains what is actually meant by zero tolerance towards sexual and other types of harassment.

The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) will no longer accept harassment of any kind, whether we are talking about sexual harassment, bullying or molestation on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, age or disability.

But what does zero tolerance actually mean, specifically? Do employees have to change their behaviour? We asked Lisbeth Møller, Deputy Director for HR, in an interview via email:

Can you elaborate on what is meant by the term zero tolerance? Does this mean that it may be grounds for dismissal or are there other sanctions?

“This means that there is zero tolerance for harassing behaviour. It means that harassing behaviour is not accepted at UCPH. Management has a duty to react when it becomes aware of cases. All employees who feel that they are subject to harassment, have the right to say no. The same applies to colleagues who overhear a situation which they perceive as offensive,” she writes in a reply by email.

It is important to note that it is the employee’s or the student’s experience of being subjected to offensive behaviour, which will the starting point. This, even if the person who harasses had no intention to harass.

In cases of offensive behaviour there will therefore always be (at least) two parties. The subject of the harassing activity and the person who harasses. Both parties are entitled to be treated professionally and with respect.”

The Danish government is to amend the law, so that a casual workplace atmosphere can no longer be a mitigating factor. How does this work together with the UCPH guidelines?

“We do not now know what the actual implementation of the decision of the Minister for Employment will be. And we need to assess it, before we can decide whether there is a need for adjustment of the UCPH guidelines. But it is my assessment that we with the UCPH guideline are at the forefront of this, because the guidelines have a broad definition of bullying: “Harassing behaviour can be bullying, sexual harassment and abuse of any kind and may occur in both physical, verbal and written, including electronic form. Harassing behaviour is also violations on the basis of, say, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, age or disability.

Should employees change their behaviour? Where is the line to be drawn?

“The UCPH guidelines make it clear that it is the “employee’s or student’s experience of having been subjected to harassing behaviour that is the starting point.

This also means that it is not possible (or reasonable) to set precise limits on when a behaviour will be perceived as harassment or to set a fixed limit on what is a “civil tone”.

These discussions may be carried out in the individual unit. What is the language we want in our workplace – and where is the line to be drawn? This is a discussion that can take place on an ongoing basis. And the focus should be on all – both students and employees – having an awareness about what a civil tone is.”