Bullying and Harassment

Bullying and harassment is more commonplace than you might think and can affect anyone regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, age, class or seniority.

Screen directors can be particularly vulnerable, typically working to a challenging schedule on a freelance basis and in highly charged environments where inappropriate behaviour may be overlooked or ignored.

Poor treatment and abusive behaviour are fundamentally connected to issues of power and control and the absence of mutual respect. In the interests of our members and industry colleagues, Directors UK is looking at how we can tackle these issues head-on and acknowledge that directors can be victims, witnesses and perpetrators of inappropriate behaviour.

Are you being bullied? Find out how to contact us

Download a copy of our handbook for screen directors


Our goal is to educate our members about poor behaviour and develop resolution best practice, so we can build a series of appropriate responses to support you. This work is ongoing and we want to hear about your experiences so that we can further identify the types of help our members need and support them as freelancers.


The process began with research. We explored the existing legislation around bullying and harassment, convened an open meeting of our members to discuss their experiences, and consulted with senior colleagues at other industry bodies, guilds, unions and the police service to better understand what inappropriate behaviour looks like and how others are dealing with it. Our research also led us to academic texts on workplace bullying and guidance for employees and employers from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

Key findings:

  • It is easier for a production company to fire a freelancer making a complaint, than to deal with bullies in their own staff or delay production with an investigation.
  • Freelancers often do not complain about poor behaviour as they fear it may damage their professional reputation and reduce future opportunities as they may be labelled a ‘trouble-maker’.
  • Directors often fail to recognise they are being bullied as poor behaviour is seen as the ‘norm’.
  • There may be perceived shame and frustration at being bullied and many freelancers may attempt to cope on their own without seeking support.
  • The creative environment can generate abusive environments. For example, jobs secured by ‘word of mouth’ or ‘personal relationships’ rather than through traditional HR processes may lead to exploitation by those in power.
  • Guidance on bullying and harassment mainly focuses on what companies can do to manage scenarios with their staff, leaving freelancers exposed.
  • We ran a survey on acceptable on-set behaviour which revealed varying opinions on what was appropriate conduct. In reality, the law is very clear on unlawful or criminal behaviour, indicating that there is a need for further education.
  • Professional standards of behaviour in other work environments is well established. Creative workers in the television and film industry deserve the same protections.


1. Revised our internal processes and developed a code of conduct for bullying and harassment

To support members who raise a complaint or find themselves accused, we reviewed and revised our internal protocol to ensure our responses are impartial, robust, fair and proportionate to each incident.

We have also developed a baseline to measure acceptable behaviour: the Directors UK code of conduct for bullying and harassment. As outlined in this code, the standards that are expected of members are:

  1. They should actively promote and robustly support the code and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs;
  2. not use their position to bully, abuse, victimise, harass or unlawfully discriminate against others;
  3. take reasonable steps to ensure that people who wish to raise concerns about bullying, discrimination, harassment and/or victimisation by others feel able to do so, and know how to follow the complaints procedure set out in Bullying & Harassment: A Handbook for Screen Directors, and this code;
  4. co-operate fully with any process set down by the Directors UK Board (“the Board”) should a formal process be instigated.

This code is available on the Directors UK website.

2. Guidance for members

We have developed a comprehensive guide for our members, Bullying & Harassment: A Handbook for Screen Directors, to help them navigate negative behaviour as a victim, witness or perpetrator. The guidance is intended to provide clear information on identifying inappropriate behaviour, an individual’s rights and responsibilities, and methods to tackle, report and address bullying on set. It also contains details of scenarios to avoid and access to third party support and resources.

3. Industry principles and guidance

Directors UK has taken an active role in the BFI/BAFTA industry working group on bullying and harassment. Together our collective industry bodies created a guidance document and a set of preventative principles for the screen industries. These provide the group with a common starting point as we work together to change attitudes towards poor behaviour. The work was published in February 2018.

Principles: A set of principles to tackle and prevent bullying and harassment in the screen industries.

Guidance: A practical workplace guide for the prevention of bullying and harassment in the screen industries.

We continue to work with these partners to evaluate and evolve the industry principles and guidance to ensure that they are robust and relevant, and support staff, crew, partners and members.

4. Developed ‘Directing Your Behaviour’, a pilot skills workshop

As screen directors rarely have formal training in managing people or conflicts, we have worked with Alec McPhedran, of Skills Channel TV, to develop a half-day pilot workshop designed to tackle these skills. The session explore different personality types, social styles and power dynamics at play in production and uses director’s own experiences to assess different behaviour scenarios.


  • We have updated internal procedures and processes to manage bullying and harassment. A new code of conduct for members has also been produced and ratified by our board.
  • Our handbook is now available to members and will be released to our fellow BFI/BAFTA working group colleagues and the freelancer communities they represent.
  • The handbook is being shared with our colleagues in the technical guilds including the British Film Designers Guild, The British Society of Cinematographers, the Guild of Location Managers, and the National Association of Screen Makeup Artists and Hairdressers.
  • The pilot ‘Directing Your Behaviour’ workshop session was attended by seven individuals in May 2018 and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. We are currently looking at deploying these essential skills sessions across the nations and regions.
  • Industry guidance created by the BFI/BAFTA working group was published in February 2018 and was met with industry-wide support. It has been adopted and endorsed by forty organisations, including: Directors UK, BBC Films, Bectu, British Film Commission, British Society of Cinematographers, Edinburgh International Television Festival, Equity, Ffilm Cymru Wales, Film4, Film London, Into Film, Motion Picture Association, Pact, The Production Guild, Sheffield Doc/Fest, UK Interactive Entertainment, Women in Film & TV, and the WGGB.

Are you being bullied?

You may not realise if you are being bullied (or are bullying someone else). If you recognise any of the behaviours below, then you may need our help.

  • Offensive comments, insults or sarcasm about someone’s professional competence.
  • Belittling someone’s work contribution, including public ‘dressing downs’ or being overly critical without reasonable cause.
  • Setting someone up to fail by assigning impossible tasks or deadlines.
  • Damaging someone’s reputation, to a third party.
  • Unwanted physical contact or comments of a sexual nature.
  • Threatening employment status without legal grounding.

Sound familiar? Please take notes of dates, times and a description of each incident. Then call us on 0207 240 0009. We can help you identify appropriate next steps and Directors UK will handle all information confidentially and impartially.

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