Examples and definitions

What is offensive behaviour?

Offensive behaviour can range from bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination to physical violence or threats of violence. If one or more individuals grossly or repeatedly subjects you to behaviour that you experience as degrading or inappropriate, then what you’re experiencing is offensive behaviour that is unacceptable.


Harassment includes all forms of unsolicited verbal, non-verbal or physical behaviour that:

  • relates to a person's gender, race, skin colour, religion or faith, political views, sexual orientation, age, disability or national, social or ethnic origin and
  • that is an affront to that person's dignity and/or
  • that creates a threatening, hostile, degrading, humiliating or unpleasant environment. 

Example of harassment:

  • Hostile, antisocial teasing or victimisation of other people that is discriminatory, humiliating and/or threatening.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment includes all forms of unsolicited verbal, non-verbal or physical behaviour with sexual undertones that are an affront to a person's dignity, and that create a threatening, hostile, degrading, humiliating or unpleasant environment – both physically and psychologically. Both men and women can behave in a way that constitutes sexual harassment.

Examples of sexual harassment:

  • Unsolicited physical contact, touching, patting, squeezing, pinching, caressing etc.
  • Unwelcome insinuations with sexual undertones, such as smutty stories, jokes, comments on a person’s appearance and crude verbal assaults
  • Suggestions, expectations or demands for sexual services
  • Crude and compromising propositions or invitations to sexual activity
  • Displaying pornographic images
  • Physical assault
  • Inappropriate questions about sexual matters


Bullying is an expression of intolerance and a display of contempt for other people. Bullying is very destructive behaviour that can seriously undermine another person's self-respect and self-esteem. Bullying is abusive social interaction that is typically repetitive: the same the same person(s) or groups of people are deliberately targeted and subjected to repeated abuse and/or humiliation.

Examples of bullying:

  • Abuse of power
  • Disparaging someone’s work or qualifications
  • Abusive language, both in terms of content and tone
  • Withholding necessary information
  • Spreading rumours or ostracising someone from the social and professional/academic community
  • Verbal aggression and mockery
  • Hostility or silence in response to questions or attempts at conversation
  • Humiliating telephone conversations
  • Humiliating written messages


Violence is an action or threat that – regardless of intent – violates another person’s integrity or which frightens, hurts or injures that person. Violence can have the same effect on other people who witness or overhear the action. Violence may be a deliberate action or something done in anger. The act also constitutes a breach of accepted laws and standards.

Examples of physical and psychological violence:

  • Physical violence includes attacks on the person, such as assault, attempted strangulation, stabbing, restraint, throwing things, pinching, biting, scratching or spitting.
  • Psychological violence is a threat of violence and other unacceptable behaviour, such as threats to life, threats of vandalism in the workplace, threats to employees' family or friends or threats to the employees' property, systematic humiliation.

Threats can also be expressed without words, e.g. with clenched fists, movement of a finger over the neck or in the form of drawings. Psychological violence and threats of violence can also be exercised via text messages, email and social media.


Unequal treatment based on prejudice against individuals or groups; usually in areas such as gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and physical or mental disability.