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Leading safe cultures

Building cultures that don't tolerate abuse and harassment.

There has been a rise in public, political and sectoral concern about the possibility of misconduct taking place within charities in England and Wales, including bullying behaviour. The follows revelations over the years about the sexual exploitation and abuse of beneficiaries within the international aid sector, as well as reports of abusive organisational cultures within this sector and more widely.

The government, the Charity Commission and umbrella organisations have initiated urgent work to address immediate safeguarding challenges as well as to prepare for longer term developmental and awareness raising activity to strengthen the health of charity workplace cultures. As a result, charities in England and Wales have been undergoing a process of significant revaluation – of values, systems and organisational cultures.

Previous reports:


  1. Bullying, harassment or victimisation on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, sex, marital status, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, religious belief, disability or age is unacceptable. This policy covers all types of harassment.
  2. Harassment may include bullying behaviour, and refers to bad treatment that is related to a protected characteristic, such as age, sex, pregnancy, disability, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. More specifically, the law defines it as ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.’ It can include behaviour that individuals find offensive even if it’s not directed at them, and even if they do not have the relevant protected characteristics themselves.
  3. Victimisation broadly refers to bad treatment directed towards someone who has made or is believed to have made or supported a complaint under the Equality Act. It includes situations where a complaint hasn’t yet been made but someone is victimised because it’s suspected they might make one. If an individual gives false evidence or makes an allegation in bad faith, then they are not protected from victimisation under the Act.
  4. Bullying can be defined as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse of misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, denigrates or injures the recipient (emotionally or physically) – but it doesn’t have a legal definition in the Equality Act. In fact bullying behaviour is very similar to harassment, but it is not related to a protected characteristics.
  5. ACEVO recognises that bullying and personal harassment can exist in the workplace, as well as outside, and that this can seriously affect employees’ working lives by interfering with their job performance or by creating a stressful, intimidating and unpleasant working environment.


  1. ACEVO deplores all forms of personal harassment and bullying and seeks to ensure that the working environment is sympathetic to all our employees.
  2. We have published these procedures to inform employees of the type of behaviour that is unacceptable and provide employees who are the victims of harassment or bullying with a means of redress.
  3. ACEVO recognises that we have a duty to implement this policy and all employees are expected to comply with it.


Harassment takes many forms and employees may not always realise that their behaviour constitutes harassment. Harassment is unwanted behaviour by one employee towards another or several employees and examples of harassment include:

  • Offensive comments on the basis of a protected characteristic;
  • insensitive jokes and pranks;
  • lewd or abusive comments about appearance;
  • deliberate exclusion from conversations;
  • abusive or offensive writing or material including via email, text or social media;
  • unwelcome touching; and
  • abusive, threatening or insulting words or behaviour.

These examples are not exhaustive and disciplinary action at the appropriate level will be taken against employees committing any form of personal harassment. Serious acts of harassment will be classed as gross misconduct and can lead to summary dismissal.


Bullying is persistent behaviour, directed against an individual or group that creates a threatening or intimidating work environment which undermines the confidence and self esteem of the recipient. Bullying is not performance managing someone in an appropriate way or giving constructive feedback to people regarding their behaviour or performance.

Examples of bullying include:

  • Verbal abuse (for example harsh or undermining treatment; verbal intimidation or threat; verbal abuse, including racist, sexist, homophobic or other prejudiced remarks)
  • Abuse of power or unfair sanctions
  • Practical jokes, initiation ceremonies
  • Physical bullying (for example intimidating physical presence; inappropriate touch; physical assault; intentional damage of property or work)
  • Social bullying (for example belittling in front of colleagues; lying, spreading rumours or making comments to damage someone’s reputation; unjustifiable preferential treatment of others; excluding from activities/opportunities, or encouraging others to exclude) .
  • Cyber/remote bullying (for example using text message, email or social media to deliver abusive, undermining or hurtful messages; online intimidation or harassment; intentional exclusion of others from online forums; public sharing of private information without consent).

These examples are not exhaustive and disciplinary action at the appropriate level will be taken against employees committing any form of bullying. Serious acts of bullying will be classed as gross misconduct and can lead to summary dismissal.


  1. Informal complaint

ACEVO recognises that complaints of harassment or bullying, and particularly of sexual or racial harassment, can sometimes be of a sensitive or intimate nature and that it may not be appropriate for you to raise the issue through our normal grievance procedure. In these circumstances you are encouraged to raise such issues with a senior colleague of your choice (whether or not that person has a direct supervisory responsibility for you) as a confidential helper. This person cannot be the person who will be responsible for investigating the matter if it becomes a formal complaint.

If you are the victim of minor harassment/bullying you should make it clear to the perpetrator on an informal basis that their behaviour is unwelcome and ask the perpetrator to stop. If you feel unable to do this verbally then you should hand a written request to the person. Your confidential helper can assist you in this.

  1. Formal complaint

Where the informal approach fails or if the behaviour is more serious or you wish to make a formal complaint, you should bring the matter to the attention of the CEO or the designated member of the senior team responsible for staff wellbeing (or the designated trustee responsible for staff wellbeing) as a formal written complaint and again your confidential helper can assist you in this. If possible, please include brief written details of the following:-

  • the name of the alleged perpetrator;
  • the nature of the alleged behaviour;
  • the dates and times when the alleged behaviour occurred;
  • the names of any witnesses; and
  • any action already taken by you to stop the alleged behaviour.

On receipt of a formal complaint we will take action to separate you from the alleged perpetrator to enable an uninterrupted investigation to take place. This may involve a temporary transfer of the alleged perpetrator to another work area or suspension with contractual pay until the matter has been resolved.

The person dealing with the complaint will invite you to attend a meeting, at a reasonable time and location, to discuss the matter and will carry out a thorough investigation. You have the right to be accompanied at such a meeting by your confidential helper, trade union representative or another work colleague of your choice and you must take all reasonable steps to attend. Those involved in the investigation will be expected to act in confidence and any breach of confidence will be a disciplinary matter.

On conclusion of the investigation which will be within a reasonable timeframe, a draft report of the findings and of the investigator’s proposed decision will be sent, in writing, to you and to the alleged perpetrator.

If you or the alleged perpetrator are dissatisfied with the draft report or with the proposed decision this should be raised with the investigator within five working days of receiving the draft. Any points of concern will be considered by the investigator before a final report is sent, in writing, to you and to the alleged perpetrator. You have the right to appeal against the findings of the investigator in accordance with the appeal provisions of the grievance procedure.


  1. If the report concludes that the allegation is well founded, the perpetrator will be liable to disciplinary action in accordance with our disciplinary procedure. An employee who receives a formal warning or who is dismissed for harassment/bullying may appeal by using our disciplinary appeal procedure.
  2. If you bring a complaint of harassment/bullying you will not be victimised for having brought the complaint.
  3. Accusations of bullying can sometimes be used as a form of bullying. If the report concludes that the complaint is both untrue and has been brought with malicious intent, disciplinary action may be taken against you.
  4. All complaints of bullying, whether formal or informal, will be reported to ACEVO’s full board at the next board meeting following the complaint. Where appropriate, and depending on circumstance, complaints may be anonymised.


Where appropriate, ACEVO will seek to provide additional assistance to victims by contacting outside agencies who will provide specialist advice and support, with the staff member’s permission.

ACEVO will provide additional support to victims of harassment, until the case is resolved. Wherever possible, ACEVO will ensure that staff are available to support victims if they so wish.


ACEVO will report incidents of harassment to the police where there is a clear threat to the safety of staff or the general public or if the allegation is of a serious criminal nature such as rape or sexual or racial assault


Managers will be offered training to learn how to handle any issues should they arise.

Creating a well and inclusive culture at ACEVO

ACEVO strives to create a warm, welcoming environment for all and is committed to the Charity Ethical Principles.

ACEVO’s code of conduct applies to staff, trustees and other volunteers, service providers, members and guests attending our events or accessing our services.

At ACEVO, we believe that our members, every person who works for or with us, volunteers with us or otherwise comes into contact with us should be treated with dignity and respect, and feel that they are in a safe and supportive environment.

Creating a positive and inclusive workplace culture is the collective responsibility of boards, chief executive and senior management teams (SMT), however we recommend there is a named point of contact in every board and senior management team who maintains oversight of these issues.

Wellbeing trustee, role and responsibilities

1. The contact details of the trustee responsible for wellbeing should be made available to all staff to enable direct contact between staff and board in cases of whistle-blowing (see whistle-blowing policy for more details).
2. To have oversight of the process of delivering the staff survey to ensure it is administered fairly and can be completed anonymously.
3. To meet with equivalent role on the SMT to discuss the results of the annual survey and, if necessary, what action should be taken to address any concerns raised
4. To demonstrate an understanding of the importance of a mentally well workplace by undertaking a half-day Mental Health First Aid awareness course
5. To annually review ACEVO’s mental health at work plan
6. To meet with equivalent on the SMT to annually review staff absence and turnover levels and identify any reoccurring problems raised in staff exit interviews.
7. To champion the wellbeing of ACEVO staff in policy and decision-making at board level.
8. Annually review policies relating to staff wellbeing.


  • A demonstrable commitment to ACEVO’s values: honest, ambitious, member-driven and connected
  • Strong inter-personal and relationship-building abilities
  • A commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion
  • A belief in the value of continuous learning and improvement

This role is currently held by Kate Allen.

Wellbeing senior leader, role and responsibilities

  1. To have operational responsibility for developing and implementing an annual staff survey.
  2. To act as a trusted point of contact for staff to report concerns about bullying, harassment or unacceptable behaviour.
  3. To present findings of staff survey and recommendations for improvement to the CEO and ACEVO trustee with responsibility for staff wellbeing.
  4. To complete the Mental Health First Aid champion 2 day course.
  5. Develop ACEVO’s wellbeing at work plan and review on an annual basis.
  6. Meet with the CEO and wellbeing trustee on an annual basis to discuss staff turnover, absence rates and any key points from staff exit interviews.
  7. To maintain an awareness of best practice policies and practice in regards to wellbeing in the workplace and incorporate these into ACEVO’s own processes and procedures.


  • A demonstrable commitment to ACEVO’s values: honest, ambitious, member-driven and connected
  • Strong inter-personal and relationship-building abilities
  • A commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion
  • A belief in the value of continuous learning and improvement

This role is currently held by Jenny Berry, crisis and governance lead.

Not an ACEVO member?

If you have any queries please email or call 020 7014 4600.

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