University of Wisconsin–Madison


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What is “hostile and intimidating behavior”?

The full definition can be found on the Principles and Policies page.

Is “hostile and intimidating behavior” the same as “acting like a jerk”?

No. Acting badly is something that all of us do from time to time, for any number of reasons. “Hostile and intimidating behavior” is characterized by its interference with another person’s ability to work, by its heightened nature, and by the pattern(s) of its occurrence.

Is a policy prohibiting hostile and intimidating behavior an abridgment of academic freedom?

No. The free exchange of ideas and the sometimes vigorous debate that happens at universities is protected. Intimidation or hostility, which tends to impede people’s ability to engage in that exchange, is prohibited because it stands in the way of the work of the university.

What if someone verbally pushes me around, or is aggressive in trying to get me to say or do something I don’t agree with – is this “bullying”?

Maybe, maybe not. If you have a question about behavior that you’re experiencing and aren’t sure if it rises to the level of hostile and intimidating behavior as defined in the policy, there are people you can ask for help in answering that question, including the Ombuds Office, the Office of Employee Assistance, your unit’s HR office, or the office of the Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff.

What do I do if I feel like I’ve been bullied?

If you feel that you are being bullied, you owe it to yourself – and to other potential victims of the same bully – to seek assistance to see that this behavior is stopped. There are a number of ways to address hostile and intimidating behavior through both “informal” and “formal” processes.

I’m worried that if I bring instances of hostile and intimidating behavior to my chair or supervisor, the bully will retaliate or make my life even more miserable. How am I protected?

You can consult with the Ombuds office or the Office of Employee Assistance if you’re worried about bringing the matter to your supervisor. They can counsel you on how best to proceed. If you’re pursuing the informal process, you can ask your intermediary or your chair/unit head to keep your name out of the conversation, though this may not always be possible. Retaliation typically qualifies as hostile and intimidating. If you experience retaliation, share this with the same person you brought the initial complaint to, as it’s considered an additional instance of hostile and intimidating behavior.

What if my supervisor is the bully?

If your supervisor is the one who’s hostile and intimidating, then bring your complaint to that person’s supervisor, or to the unit HR representative. (In the case of a department chair, bring the matter to the academic associate dean; in the case of a unit head, bring the matter to that person’s supervisor, or to the unit HR. If you’re worried that filing a complaint will affect your performance review, ask unit HR to assign someone else who’s knowledgeable about your work to do your performance review.

What do I do if I witness hostile and intimidating behavior directed at another person, yet that person is him- or herself reluctant to take steps to stop the behavior?

The person witnessing the behavior should have a private discussion with the victim prior to taking any action on their behalf. Person A cannot be a complainant for Person B if B does not want them or ask them to do so. However, you may educate yourself about strategies and resources for HIB and offer support to Person B, including encouragement to take steps to resolve the problem. If Person A is also being affected by HIB from the same coworker as Person B, then Person A may pursue the informal and/or formal process without involvement of Person B, with potential benefit to Person B.

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