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Addressing harassment in EU Delegations

Karoly Soos, Layla El Khadraoui, Carlos Perez Padilla

Harassment in EU Delegations exists and all too often. Many staff consider that the institution fails to take adequate measures to prevent harassment and that the anti-harassment policies are still not taken seriously enough (Staff Survey 2021). USHU firmly believes that more must be done to avoid and respond effectively to all cases of harassment. One harassed colleague, is one too much.

While it is positive that the EU has mechanisms in place to address harassment, those mechanisms aim at mitigating the situation suffered by the victim and not to actively addressing the perpetrator’s behaviour who is often times free to continue it with other colleagues or when moved to another unit/Delegation. There are several steps to “informally” solve the situation and only when a colleague is considered as being ‘seriously’ harassed (or when the perpetrator decides not to refrain from harassment after informal discussions) does it end up with the disciplinary office.

It is in the interest of both the victim and the entire EU Delegation /section to address harassment swiftly and adequately. Harassment impacts directly on the person who is suffering (this is of course of the outmost importance) but additionally affects the efficiency and effectiveness of the individual and the entire team. Each harassment case that is not satisfactorily resolved sends a message of permissibility and a lack of serious commitment towards protecting staff in such situations. As such, a single person’s behaviour can demotivate an entire office and reduce the EU’s capacity to deliver on its ambitious goals.

While the first reason to react to harassment is to ensure the safety and health of the victims, the institution should not leave the decision to start a procedure in the hands of the victim alone. If the case is serious enough, the risk of a wider impact on EU staff performance should be taken seriously and the disciplinary office or management should consider starting the process even if the victim is not interested in doing so. That way a significant number of non-reported cases or cases that are not currently reaching the disciplinary office could be taken into account. This would also address the fear of certain colleagues of being seen as “trouble makers” if they wish to pursue harassment cases.

USHU is therefore please to offer you a summary of the tools on how to prevent harassment in the workplace and the measures available to you to tackle any such incidents

Harassment basic principles

Violence and harassment are attacks on personal dignity, the right to equal and non-discriminatory treatment and may affect a person’s health. Staff affected by it may feel insecure about their work; they are more frequently absent and may eventually be unable to work, with impacts on efficiency and the achievement of results.

What is psychological harassment?

"Psychological harassment means any improper conduct that takes place over a period, is repetitive or systematic and involves physical behaviour, spoken or written language, gestures or other acts that are intentional and that may undermine the personality, dignity or physical or psychological integrity of any person." Staff regulations, article 12a.

Harassment can take on different forms, but often includes these elements: or leads to these consequences

  • persistent and repetitive actions;

  • targeting one person in particular;

  • serious impact on the target in terms of physical and mental health (effects always negative);

  • Isolated incidents and occasional behaviour that may not easily constitute harassment by definition but is inappropriate and must be avoided.

  • shouting at another person: if you lose your temper and shout at someone, then apologise immediately;

  • teasing a colleague even when you see it is not welcome;

  • ridiculing a colleague's beliefs or habits in public or making fun of his/her way of thinking, dressing or his/her hobbies;

  • gossiping behind the back of colleagues instead of having a frank and open discussion on what makes you feel uncomfortable in this colleague's attitude or deeds;

  • generalising on people or circumstances you have not witnessed yourself;

  • generalising on supposed main characteristics of a specific cultural national background.

2021 COMMISSION Survey on Diversity and Inclusion at Work

In March 2021 and in an effort to obtain more detailed information on the situation for Commission staff, a survey was launched to better understand staff perception of anti-harassment policy, the level of conflict at work, perceptions of psychological and sexual harassment, measures to assist staff and future actions to prevent and fight harassment. Find out more about the results by consulting :

The European Commission is committed to providing a work environment that is free of harassment, where all people are treated with respect and dignity (Decision of 26 April 2006 on protecting the dignity of the person and preventing psychological harassment and sexual harassment C(2006)1624/3).

Psychological harassment and sexual harassment are both banned under Article 12a of the Staff regulations. Moreover, offending attitudes, inappropriate behaviour and conflicts should be avoided in the workplace.

USHU wants to see more active engagement and commitment from management, in line with the zero harassment policy. Adoption of a Decision is one thing, its correct implementation is another!

Methodologies to prevent harassment – enhanced collaborative relationships

The radical collaboration approach foresees the RED ZONE – GREEN ZONE concepts as a way of describing the culture of an organization. The RED ZONE is a more adversarial, conflicted and un-collaborative environment. The GREEN ZONE is a more collaborative, supportive environment. It is rare that an organization is pure RED ZONE or pure GREEN ZONE; most are a unique combination of both, to varying degrees.

This chart gives you a good indication of the difference between an organization that is primarily RED or primarily GREEN.

What to do in case of harassment?

In front of a difficult professional situation, staff members may request assistance through the informal procedure (network of confidential counsellors or mediation service) or through the formal procedure (HR.D2 or HR.IDOC). Staff in a difficult situation looking for assistance from the institution can request assistance either informally or formally.

Contacts in case of harassment: If you feel harassed, you can contact a confidential counsellor, or the mediation service. Other services are also available to provide appropriate support.

Who to contact first to get assistance? Any person who feels he/she is a victim of psychological or sexual harassment can contact the: Lead department DG HR E.3 Tel: 00.322.295.66.66, or Confidential counsellors (

This phone number and functional mailbox are available to all staff wishing to report a difficult situation which might lead to harassment or which already implies forms of harassment. Support and advice will then be provided and, when appropriate, conciliation or mediation can be offered.

What is the informal procedure?

As a first step, staff members are strongly advised to seek resolution of the problem through local conciliation. The "informal procedure" provides support and someone to speak to in strict confidentiality with a confidential counsellor. Confidential counsellors are a network of professionally trained colleagues, acting on a voluntary basis who can support you. The confidential counsellor network is composed of around 40 members who reflect the varied staff composition (various categories, grades, nationalities, genders and departments).

The mediation service is a facilitator for disputes that may arise in the context of working relations. It acts as an intermediary between the staff member and the administration offering objective and impartial advice to both sides. It has no decision-making power of its own and works informally, respecting independence, confidentiality and impartiality. In certain circumstances, the Mediator can make recommendations to DGs and services.

What can do you to avoid harassment in your workplace?

USHU believes a positive, tolerant and respectful mind-set is truly the best way to avoid inappropriate behaviour and harassment in the workplace. Line managers and colleagues must all show MORE RESPECT, MORE PATIENCE, MORE EMPATHY and EXPRESS APPRECIATION regularly to each other. Another golden rule in the case of a difference in opinion is “ATTACK THE SUBJECT AND NOT THE PERSON”.

A former EEAS Mediator statement regarding harassment remains valid today : “The only fair answer to assess the situation is that harassment in the EEAS is too frequent. In any institution that declares 0 tolerance, even 1 case is too much".

USHU fully concurs with EEAS mediator’s assertion and knows WE NEED TO DO MORE TO PREVENT IT. We must urgently create a respectful work culture; a people-centred work culture where inappropriate behaviour is simply not tolerated and a culture that fully accepts diversity”. Managers need to be trained in how to avoid conflict and how to detect harassment cases.

For more information on how to deal with any of the issues indicated above and for any staff-related topic, please contact USHU at: Explore our membership plans and become a member today:

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