Complaints of harassment against University staff

Policy and Procedures approved by Council on 1 December 2014. Revisions to the Staff Procedure approved by Personnel Committee in March 2016 and April 2017.

1. The Procedure below applies in all cases where the person who is the subject of the complaint is a member of University staff. The Director of Human Resources will have oversight of all cases, and will take the lead as appropriate in liaising with other parts of the collegiate University.

2. Any complaints against college staff will normally be dealt with under the appropriate college procedure.

3. The references in this procedure to the ‘head of department’ should be taken to mean the head of department, faculty board chair, head of division or their equivalent, or the person to whom any of these has formally delegated responsibility[1]. The references also apply where appropriate to the Vice-Chancellor, Pro Vice-Chancellors and Registrar, and other senior University officers.

4. Where the complainant is a student, support during this process will be provided by the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office[2].

5. Both parties to a complaint should be kept updated by the investigator, Personnel Services or the department at appropriate intervals throughout the complaint.

6. If a complaint falls across more than one University procedure, the University will deal with the matter as flexibly, fairly and proportionately as possible. In particular, if a student’s complaint relates to matters which fall within the University’s complaints or academic appeals procedures, there should be a discussion between the department and the Proctors’ Office regarding the most appropriate way forward, in consultation with the Director of Human Resources. It may be appropriate for there to be either parallel or sequential investigations to avoid duplication or conflicting decisions. The complainant should be informed of the outcome of this discussion.

Initial action

7. The Procedure below assumes that the individual has not been able first to resolve the issue through an informal approach. Staff members wishing to seek informal resolution should approach their immediate supervisor, departmental administrator, or head of department or equivalent to ask for help in achieving a resolution of the problem. Students should seek support from the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office. At no time should a student or staff member feel obliged to approach an alleged harasser.

Mediation or conciliation

8. In some situations, it may be appropriate to ask the parties to consider entering into a mediation or conciliation process. Although mediation or conciliation may be attempted at any time before or after a formal investigation, it may be particularly helpful if it is considered at an early stage before the formal procedure is invoked.

9. In the case of a complaint by a member of staff, an experienced mediator or conciliator acceptable to both parties will normally be nominated by the Director of Human Resources. In the case of a complaint by a student, the Director of Human Resources will consult the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services. The mediator or conciliator will meet with the parties separately and as soon as practicable to begin to seek a resolution. The normal expectation is that resolution would be achieved within 20 working days of the initial meetings with the parties (although this time limit may be extended by agreement). Any agreed outcome will normally be recorded in writing.

10. All those involved in the mediation or conciliation process must maintain appropriate confidentiality.

Complaints procedure

11. If informal action does not succeed in resolving the situation, or would not be appropriate given the nature of the complaint, the complainant should make a written complaint to the subject of the complaint’s head of department or, if the complainant feels it is not appropriate to approach that person, the relevant head of division (or analogous unit within UAS or ASUC). If any of the parties considers that the head of department has a conflict of interest in the complaint, the complaint may be referred to the head of division. In cases where it is not immediately clear to whom a complaint should be addressed, or if the complainant feels it is not appropriate to approach the head of division or a senior University officer, or wishes to make a complaint against a head of division or senior University officer, advice may be sought from the Director of Human Resources, or in the case of a student complainant, from the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services. Students can seek support from the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office when wishing to make a complaint against a member of staff to a head of department, and support will be available to them throughout the complaints process. Staff can seek support from a harassment advisor; if the staff member does not feel comfortable contacting a local advisor in their college or department, they can contact the Harassment Line for details of another advisor (Tel. 01865 270760 or e-mail harassment.line@admin.ox.ac.uk).

Submission of the complaint

12. In the submission to the head of department, the complainant should set out as clearly and succinctly as possible (i) the nature of the behaviour that the complainant is concerned about; (ii) the effect of this behaviour on the complainant; and (iii) the resolution that the complainant is seeking. The complaint should include dates and details of any witnesses to any incidents referred to in the complaint, together with any documentary evidence. The complainant should also explain what attempts, if any, have been made to resolve the difficulties.

13. A copy of all written complaints should be sent to the Director of Human Resources for information. In the case of a complaint by a student against a member of staff, the Director of Human Resources, with the student’s permission, will normally forward the complaint to the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services.

14. Every effort will be made to achieve a prompt resolution to the complaint – the aim being to conclude the investigation within a period of no more than six weeks. Both the complainant and the person who is the subject of the complaint will be expected to co-operate with the University in achieving that result. In exceptional cases, an investigation may take longer than six weeks, and both parties will be kept updated about the progress of the investigation.

15. If the complaint is brought by a member of staff, the complainant has the right to be accompanied and supported by a trade union representative[3] or by a colleague of the complainant’s choice from within the University at any meeting held under this procedure. The same is true of the member of staff who is the subject of the complaint. Any student involved in a complaint has the right to be accompanied by another student member, a member of Congregation, or a member of staff from OUSU’s Student Advice Service. These people must maintain appropriate confidentiality.

16. There may be circumstances in which an aggrieved party is not willing, or able, to make a formal complaint but the head of department considers that the implications for the aggrieved person or others actually or potentially affected are serious. This may include cases where other parties, but not the aggrieved party, have made a complaint. In this case, the head of department will consult the Director of Human Resources, and in the case of a student complainant, the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services, and may initiate an investigation and make a decision on further action on the basis of such evidence as is available.

Action by the head of department on receipt of a complaint

17. On receipt of a complaint, the head of department will in consultation with the Director of Human Resources and, in the event of a student complainant, the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services, take such steps as the head of department thinks necessary or appropriate to understand the nature of the complaint and the outcome sought which may include:

  • informing the person against whom a complaint has been made of the allegations against that person;
  • meeting separately with the complainant and the alleged harasser (at which meetings they may be accompanied);
  • speaking to other relevant people on a confidential basis; and/or
  • obtaining further relevant information.

18. The head of department will then decide how to proceed and will inform the parties in writing.  The head of department may make such enquiries, or commission an investigation, as necessary to determine the complaint.

19. The head of department may also determine that immediate interim action is necessary pending the outcome of a formal process.

Investigation

20. The purpose of an investigation is to establish the relevant factual evidence in connection with the allegation(s) made by the complainant. (See section 36 below for the procedure for investigations.)

21. As a general rule, the investigator should not have had previous involvement with the issues in the case. The investigation should be concluded as soon as is reasonably practicable. The investigator will prepare a report and may, if specifically requested to do so by the head of department, make recommendations on possible courses of action. The head of department will consider the scope and findings of the investigation and whether any further investigation is required before making a decision.

Head of department's decision

22. The head of department will inform the complainant in writing:

(i) whether the complaint has been upheld, partially upheld or not upheld

(ii) any recommendations they are making in relation to the complainant

(iii) about any right to appeal the head of department’s decision, and

(iv), if the complainant is a student and the complaint has been upheld or partially upheld, about their option of taking their complaint to the Proctors (see paragraph 29 below).

23. The head of department will inform the person who is the subject of the complaint in writing:

(i) of the conclusions that the head of department has reached having reviewed the evidence;

 (ii) of the action the head of department intends to take;

(iii) of the reasons for any such action; and

(iv) of any right to appeal the head of department’s decision under the appropriate grievance procedure (see paragraph 26 below).

The head of department will also inform any other parties who have been asked to participate in an investigation that the investigation has been concluded.

Possible outcomes of a complaint

24. Depending on the nature of the complaint and the evidence found, including the findings of any investigation report, the head of department, in consultation with the Director of Human Resources and, in the event of a student complainant, the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services, will either:-

i. Take no further action, other than, where appropriate, implementing or suggesting steps that would help to restore reasonable professional relationships between the parties.

  • or

ii. Initiate resolution of the issues. If a successful resolution is achieved the case will be closed, but the situation will be monitored for an appropriate period.

  • or

iii. Institute disciplinary proceedings against the subject of the complaint where the head of department is reasonably satisfied that there is evidence to support allegations of harassment of a sufficiently serious nature to warrant doing so. In this event, the head of department will determine what intermediate measures are necessary, including any re-allocation of duties, in consultation as appropriate with the relevant college.

  • or

iv. In rare cases disciplinary or other appropriate action may be instituted against the complainant if the head of department is satisfied that the complaint of harassment is unfounded and not made in good faith.

Appeal against the head of department’s decision

25. If the complaint is upheld or partially upheld, the subject of the complaint may invoke the relevant grievance or complaint procedure within the time scales specified in that procedure save that, where the decision is to refer the matter for disciplinary action against the subject of the complaint, any matters of dispute will usually be considered as part of that person's response to the disciplinary proceedings.

26. If the complaint is not upheld or only partially upheld, the complainant may invoke the appeal stage of any applicable grievance or complaint procedure within the time scales specified in that procedure (see paragraphs 27 and 28 below) save that, where the decision is to refer the matter for disciplinary action against the complainant, any matters of dispute will usually be considered as part of that person's response to the disciplinary proceedings.

27. In the case of a staff complainant, the complainant’s route of appeal would be the appeal stage of the appropriate grievance procedure. For academic related staff see:  www.admin.ox.ac.uk/personnel/staffinfo/handbook_acrel.  For support staff see: www.admin.ox.ac.uk/personnel/staffinfo/handbook_support.

28. A student complainant would need to appeal to the Registrar, normally within 14 days of being informed of the outcome of the complaint. An appeal can only be made on one or more of the following grounds:

a)    there was an error in the decision-making process or a procedural irregularity; and/or

b)    there was any bias or perception of bias in the decision-making process.

29. If the outcome of a formal complaint made by a student under this procedure is that the complaint is upheld or partially upheld, and (a) the subject of the complaint does not appeal in accordance with paragraph 25 or (b) that appeal has been concluded and any allegations of harassment have been upheld, then the student may take their complaint to the Proctors who will determine any appropriate redress from the University. A student who wishes to refer a matter to the Proctors may only do so if they

 (i) have decided not to appeal the head of department’s decision to the Registrar under paragraph 28 above; or

(ii) any appeal by the student to the Registrar has been completed.

Potentially criminal misconduct

30. This Procedure may not be applicable where the allegations are of behaviours that may attract criminal sanction. This would include, but not be limited to, cases of serious assault or threat of assault. The Head of Department will in consultation with the Director of Human Resources for staff or Director of Student Welfare and Support Services for students, decide which procedure is appropriate.

Confidentiality

31. Information concerning allegations of harassment must so far as reasonably possible be held in confidence by those to whom it is divulged.  Unnecessary disclosure of such allegations may attract disciplinary sanction.  Information will be shared on a need-to-know basis, including as appropriate with the individual against whom a complaint is brought. Once a formal complaint is pursued, it is likely to be appropriate and/or necessary for certain information to be provided to others within the University, within certain colleges, or to external bodies.

32. Those to whom disclosure may be made outside the University include the police, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (“OIA”) and the civil and criminal courts.  The University will not normally report a matter to the police without the complainant’s agreement, except in those rare circumstances where there is sufficient evidence to suggest that an individual poses an extreme risk.

Records

33. The University and all those involved in this process must comply with the principles of the Data Protection Act 1998[4]. These include ensuring that personal data is kept accurate and up-to-date, held securely, and not kept for longer than necessary.

34. Those interviewed in the course of any investigation will be asked to review the notes of their individual discussions with the investigator as soon as is reasonably possible in order to comment on any inaccuracies or omissions.

35. The Director of Human Resources, and if the student is a complainant, the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services, should be consulted about filing and retaining any notes and documents, all of which must be held in confidence.

Investigations

36. The procedure for an investigation will normally be as follows, but may be adapted by the investigator to meet the needs of the case:-

a)    The investigator will meet the complainant to confirm the details of the complaint.

b)    The complaint as clarified will be forwarded to the person complained against together with any other relevant material that the investigator has.

c)    The investigator will meet the person complained against to hear that person’s response to the complaint and any further evidence that has come to light.

d)    The investigator will interview, where reasonably practicable, individuals identified as having relevant evidence.

e)    Having considered all the evidence, including any relevant documents, the investigator will prepare a written report of their findings, in relation to which the investigator may check relevant sections in draft with the parties before finalising.

f)     The report will be forwarded to the head of department, usually with a copy to the Director of Human Resources, and, if the complainant is a student, normally to the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services. In cases involving students, consent should be sought from the complainant to inform the complainant’s college if appropriate. The Director of Student Welfare and Support Services will ensure that appropriate support is available to students following an investigation.


[1] Within the University Administration and Services (UAS) the head of department will normally be the director or head of the relevant division or section within UAS. Within ASUC the head of department will normally be the directors of the Bodleian Libraries and the University’s museums.
[2] Students can contact the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office by e-mail: director.swss@admin.ox.ac.uk.
[3] Information on recognised trade unions at the University is available at www.admin.ox.ac.uk/personnel/staffinfo/joint.
[4] The University’s Data Protection policy is available at: www.admin.ox.ac.uk/councilsec/compliance/dataprotection