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Procedure

1. General Principles

At any stage of the procedure, those involved in attempting a resolution or in investigating a complaint must act in accordance with good practice and certain principles:

  • Natural justice
    Any person against whom a complaint has been made has the right to know the nature and sufficient details of the complaint in order to respond. It is important that no decision is taken until the complaint has been investigated and the person against who the complaint has been made has had the opportunity to respond.
     
  • Representation
    Both the complainant and the person against whom the complaint has been made may be accompanied to meetings and supported by a trade union representative or a work colleague.
     
  • Confidentiality
    In order to safeguard individuals, confidentiality must be very strictly respected and information limited to those who have a need to know (and only to the extent necessary) for the purposes of the operation of these procedures and for maintenance of good order in the University. The University reserves the right to seek advice from or involve appropriate external authorities if it believes that it is under an obligation to do so. Any breach of confidentiality may result in disciplinary action being instigated.
     
  • Support
    During and following the conclusion of a report and investigation it is important that support is given by the Institution to both parties and, if appropriate, other staff in the workplace to try and resume a working relationship and to encourage a dignity at work ethos. See: https://www.hr.admin.cam.ac.uk/hr-services/wellbeing/support-services-university for more information.
     
  • Timescales
    A complainant should make a complaint in a timely fashion (normally immediately after the incident or at the latest within three months of the most recent incident or occurrence of the behaviour). If there is good reason, this timeframe could be extended for example where a complainant does not feel able to make a complaint without initial support or counselling. Once a complaint is made it must be investigated promptly. While it is important that an investigation is thorough, a long-drawn out investigation is not in the interest of either party. However, there may be cases in which the investigation of a complaint is unavoidably delayed. In these circumstances every effort will be made to keep all parties informed of progress.
     
  • Conflict of interest
    A conflict of interest can be defined as a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding one interest will be unduly influenced by another interest. Within the University, a formal investigation will not normally be undertaken or an appeal heard by someone in the same department or institution as the individual/s concerned. Concerns over conflicts of interest will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
     
  • Records
    A note will be taken at meetings and will be sent to those present. Notes will not be verbatim but should nevertheless be accurate. The staff member interviewed will have an opportunity to comment on his/her notes. The University and all those involved in this process must observe the data protection principles. The Human Resources Division should be consulted about filing and retention of all notes and documents.
     
  • Malicious or vexatious complaints
    A complaint may be considered to be malicious or vexatious if it is made in bad faith, if deliberately false allegations are made as a form of bullying against a colleague or manager, or where there are a series of frivolous and clearly unfounded allegations.
     
  • Overlapping procedures
    If a complaint falls across more than one University procedure, the University will deal with the matter as flexibly, fairly and proportionately as possible. For example, if a staff member’s complaint relates to a student or vice versa  there should be a discussion between the Department, the Human Resources Division and the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals regarding the most appropriate way forward. 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. In the event that it is not possible to reach a decision by discussion, the matter should be referred to the Registrary, whose decision will be final.

 

2. Initial action

  • In the first instance, unacceptable behaviour should be dealt with informally, where apprpriate, as this is often the most effective method for resolving issues raised under the Dignity at Work Policy. The University has support measures in place to help facilitate this. If informal action has been unsuccessful or if the alleged behaviour is deemed by the Head of Institution, in consultation with the relevant HR Business Manager/Adviser, to be sufficiently serious, it may warrant an immediate formal investigation. For guidance on disclosures by staff and students that have experienced sexual assault, please refer to the guidance.
     
  • The Head of Institution should make every effort to protect the rights of both parties and make it clear that at this stage the complaint has not been substantiated and no decision has been taken as to culpability.
     
  • Where (because of particular circumstances) it would be inappropriate for the Head of Institution to take part in the process, the matter should be referred to the Director of Human Resources who will ask the Head of the School or other appropriate senior person, or in Council institutions, the Registrary, to initiate action. References to the Head of Institution herein will include, where relevant, references to their appointed deputy or alternative.
     
  • Members of staff who feel that they have been or are being subjected to unacceptable behaviour, or are accused of unacceptable behaviour, are advised to seek advice and support.
     
  • Staff can obtain advice from their Manager, local HR staff, Institutional Administrator, or the HR Business Manager/Adviser assigned to their School, http://www.hr.admin.cam.ac.uk/contact-us, who may be able to support them in finding an informal resolution. For other sources of support see the section Sources of Support in the Toolkit.
     
  • If requested, the HR Business Manager/Adviser will be able to meet and discuss the matter confidentially with the complainant and/or the person against whom the complaint has been made, explain the University procedures and agree the best approach to try and resolve the problem so that a constructive way of working in the future can be agreed. They may also be able to provide further support to resolve the matter informally (for instance facilitating a meeting between the parties).
     
  • The HR Business Manager/Adviser may advise, for example, that the individuals discuss the matter with the Head of Institution or the Institutional Administrator, and/or advise that they meet with a Dignity@Work Contact or refer the case to the Mediation Service, if both parties agree. For further information on Dignity@Work Contacts and the Mediation Service, see the section, Sources of Support in the Toolkit.
     
  • Employees may also wish to discuss the matter confidentially with a colleague. Additionally, a member of staff may wish to seek support from a trade union representative. Information on the University’s Diversity Networks can be found at: http://www.equality.admin.cam.ac.uk/diversity- networks. For more information on sources of support see the section Sources of Support in the Toolkit.
     
  • The University's Equality & Diversity webpages: http://www.equality.admin.cam.ac.uk/training/equalities-law/key-principles explain some of the principal concepts underpinning UK equalities law.

 

3. Informal direct approach

  • A member of staff who feels that s/he is being subjected to inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour, for example bullying or harassment, should if possible approach the other party informally, in a constructive manner, at the earliest opportunity, explain that they perceive their behaviour to be unacceptable and that they would like them to alter this. The approach may be made in person or in writing. The staff member should give specific examples of the unwanted behaviour, and explain why this has made them feel uncomfortable. In many cases this may resolve the issue without any further action being taken and it may be possible to agree a constructive way of working in the future.
     
  • The complainant may seek support in formulating what s/he wants to say, either in writing or verbally to the other person, from a number of sources including a Dignity@Work Contact or their HR Business Manager/Adviser.

 

4. Informal approach with support

  • The complainant may be unable or reluctant to approach the other party on their own. If so, the complainant may obtain advice or ask for support from a colleague, their Manager, local HR staff, Institutional Administrator, Head of Institution or Human Resources Business Manager/Adviser attached to the School, to ask for help in achieving an informal resolution of the problem.
     
  • The Manager (or other individual from whom help has been requested) may meet separately with the complainant and the person about whom the complaint has been made to discuss the situation. The Manager will establish the circumstances, the impact that the complainant considers the situation has had on him/her, any steps already taken to address it, and the response of the person about whom the complaint has been made. The complainant is encouraged to keep a record of any examples of the unacceptable behaviour that can support their complaint during the course of these discussions.
     
  • The Manager will then seek to agree a course of action with the complainant. Wherever possible, resolution will be sought through informal means. This will usually involve a meeting between the complainant and the person about whom the complaint has been made, which may be facilitated by the complainant’s Manager and, if appropriate, the HR Business Manager/Adviser. The spirit of such a meeting should not be one of accusation, but of attempting to raise awareness, increase understanding of and demonstrate why distress may have occurred as well as exploring how such incidents might be avoided in the future. If a successful resolution is achieved, the HR Business Manager/Adviser assigned to the institution may keep a confidential record and inform the Head of Institution if s/he considers this appropriate. The complainant and person complained about will be advised of such an eventuality.
     
  • Where mediation is considered to be appropriate and where both parties agree to participate, the Manager, HR Business Manager/Adviser or the parties themselves may refer the case to the University’s Mediation Service. The mediation process itself is entirely confidential to the participants. (https://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/offices/hr/policy/mediation/).
     
  • The informal procedure is set out in the Informal procedure flow chart (see Annex B).

 

5. Formal procedure

  • If the situation is not resolved by the informal process or the matter is particularly serious, the complainant may decide to make a formal complaint to his/her Head of Institution. 
     
  • The Head of Institution is accountable for the management of the institution and references will be made to this role throughout the procedure. However, the Head of Institution may delegate responsibility for appropriate action to a University colleague (who may or may not be a member of the institution concerned). Where (because of particular circumstances) it would be inappropriate for the Head of Institution to take part in the process, the matter should be referred to the Director of Human Resources who will ask the Head of the School or other appropriate senior person, or in Council institutions, the Registrary, to initiate action. References to the Head of Institution herein will include, where relevant, references to their appointed deputy or alternative. 
     
  • The Head of Institution will generally instigate a formal investigation. However, if the Head of Institution considers at this stage that an informal resolution may still be feasible and appropriate, s/he will discuss this option with the complainant. There may be circumstances in which a complainant is not willing, or able, to make a formal complaint but where the Head of Institution considers that the implications for the complainant or others actually or potentially affected are so serious as to warrant an investigation being taken forward. In this case the Head of Institution, having taken advice from the Director of Human Resources, may initiate a formal investigation, or informally look into the matter, and make a decision on further action on the basis of such evidence as is available. 
     
  • The formal procedure incorporates a number of possible routes and outcomes. This is necessary in order to balance the rights and needs of both parties. The intention is to facilitate a non-confrontational approach to resolution, while ensuring that there is a clear formal route should it be necessary. The procedure is set out below, and a summary is provided in the Formal Procedure flow-chart (see Annex B].

 

6. Formal written complaint

  • A formal complaint should be in writing in a timely fashion (normally immediately after the incident or at the latest within three months of the most recent incident or occurrence of the behaviour). If there is good reason, this timeframe could be extended for example where a complainant does not feel able to make a complaint without initial support or counselling. Complaints should contain enough detail to allow an investigation to be initiated. The written complaint should include the following information:
    • Details of any informal resolution that has been attempted;

    • Any evidence supporting the allegations made, e.g. emails;

    • Names of any employees who may be approached to provide evidence of the alleged unacceptable behaviour.

  • The complaint should be addressed to the complainant’s Head of Institution, or, if that is not possible, the Director of Human Resources. 
     
  • The complainant may seek the support of a Dignity@Work Contact, a trade union representative or a colleague in preparing the formal complaint. On receiving the formal complaint, the Head of Institution may arrange a meeting with the complainant to clarify the grounds of the complaint and how the complainant thinks it should be solved, and explain what will happen next. If, following the meeting, it is considered appropriate; an investigation will be initiated by appointing an independent investigator (see section 5.8 of the Procedure).
     
  • The Head of Institution will also meet with the person against whom the complaint has been made and will provide him/her with a copy of the complaint. The Head of Institution will explain that an investigation into the allegations will be carried out, which will include an interview with the person against whom the complaint has been made and any relevant witnesses, and consideration of any evidence that may be presented.
     
  • The person against whom the complaint has been made may also seek the support of a Dignity@Work contact, a trade union representative or a colleague. Please note the role of a Dignity@Work contact is to provide confidential advice to those who feel that they are experiencing difficult working relationships, including bullying or harassment.
     
  • There may be circumstances in which an aggrieved party is not willing, or able, to make a formal complaint but the head of institution 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 institution will consult the <e.g. Director of Human Resources>, and in the case of a student complainant, the <e.g. 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.

 

7 Right to be accompanied to meetings

  • Both the complainant and the person against whom the complaint has been made may be accompanied to any meeting by a companion, who should be either a trade union representative or a work colleague. The companion will be required to maintain appropriate confidentiality. 
     
  • The companion will be allowed to address the meeting, to put and sum up the member of staff’s case, respond on behalf of the member of staff to any views expressed at the meeting and confer with the member of staff during the meeting. The companion does not, however, have the right to answer questions on the member of staff’s behalf, address the hearing if the member of staff does not wish it or prevent the employer from explaining their case.

 

8. Investigation

  • The investigation should not be carried out by the person who will assess and decide the outcome. Normally the investigator will be drawn from a panel of senior employees who have been briefed appropriately, and will not be a member of any institution in which either party is concerned.
     
  • Guidance on investigations is available from the institution’s HR Business Manager/Adviser.
     
  • The investigator will normally be appointed within 5 working days of receipt of the complaint and will be supported by an HR Business Manager/Adviser. A note of any meeting will normally be made by an HR Adviser/Administrator. Arrangements for the investigation will normally commence within three working days of the appointment of the investigator and the investigation should be concluded as soon as is reasonably practicable. It is recommended that up to 5 working days’ notice is given to attend an investigation meeting. The HR Business Manager/Adviser will agree with the parties at the beginning of the process the appropriate method and timing of regular updates during the case.

 

9. Investigatory process

  • The investigator will meet with the complainant in order to confirm the details of the complaint. The investigator will also, where reasonably practicable, request witness statements from and/or interview any relevant witnesses nominated by the complainant if they feel it is appropriate.
     
  • The investigator will meet the person against whom the complaint has been made to hear his/her response to the complaint.
     
  • The investigator will also, where reasonably practicable, request witness statements from and/or interview any relevant individuals nominated by the person against whom the complaint has been made.
     
  • The investigator will normally be supported at the investigatory meetings by the HR Adviser who will take a note of each meeting.
     
  • Any person interviewed during the investigation will be sent a copy of the note of the meeting and asked if they agree it is a factually accurate note of their interview. Any factual comments must be received by the investigator within 5 working days of the interviewee receiving the meeting notes. Where there is disagreement as to the contents of the note, both versions will be sent to the Head of Institution.
     
  • The two parties to the complaint will receive copies of all relevant documents which may include interview notes, written statements or other evidence. At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator will write a report for the Head of Institution, detailing the facts as established and saying whether, in their opinion, there is a case to answer. It will then be the responsibility of the Head of Institution, with the support of the Human Resources Division, to decide what action to take.
     
  • In carrying out the investigation, the investigator will need to ensure that the rights of both parties to fair treatment are observed. The principles of natural justice require that any person against whom the complaint has been made has the right to know the nature and details of the complaint, and to respond to the complaint. In some exceptional circumstances, however, names/identities may be kept confidential and not disclosed to a party. If any party or a witness has any concerns about details or identity being disclosed, s/he should notify the investigator (giving full reasons, and evidence where possible, for his/her concerns) and the investigator will discuss the matter with the Human Resources Division.
     
  • The time scale of the investigation may vary according to the particular complaint but should always be completed as quickly as practicable.
     

10. Action by the Head of Institution

  • Once the Head of Institution has reviewed the report, s/he will invite the complainant and the person about whom the complaint has been made to individual meetings if appropriate. Please refer to the Insert Sexual Misconduct Guidance <insert link> for further advice on cases of this nature.
     
  • The Head of Institution will send both the complainant and the person about whom the complaint has been made, a copy of the report and any other relevant documents in advance of the meetings.
     
  • During their separate meetings the complainant and the person about whom the complaint has been made will have the opportunity to discuss the report with the Head of Institution.
     
  • Following the meetings and having carefully considered the investigation report, the accompanying paperwork and any comments on the report provided by the complainant and the person complained about, the Head of Institution will decide what action s/he may take to resolve the issue.
     
  • The Head of Institution will give both parties written confirmation of the outcome of the process as soon as is reasonably possible.

 

11. Action where there is no case to answer

  • In the light of the findings of the investigation, the complainant’s Head of Institution will decide what action is appropriate.
     
  • If the investigator’s report concludes that there is no case to answer and the Head of Institution supports this view, the case will be closed, although steps may need to be taken to restore reasonable working relationships between the parties (this may include referral to the Mediation Service if the parties agree or a facilitated meeting). Advice can be obtained from the relevant HR Business Manager/Adviser.
     
  • If the Head of Institution concludes that there is no case to answer, and no further action is taken, no documentation regarding the complaint will be put on the personnel file of either the complainant or the person about whom the complaint has been made.
     
  • If the complainant does not accept the outcome, they may appeal (see section 6 below).
     
  • If the Head of Institution has grounds to believe, or on considering the investigator's report, finds that the complaint was malicious or vexatious, s/he may instigate disciplinary action against the complainant, in consultation with the Human Resources Division. No disciplinary action will be taken against a complainant where a complaint is mistaken or otherwise ill-founded but not malicious or vexatious. See section 5.1.5 of the Procedure.

 

12 Action where there is a case to answer

  • If the Head of Institution decides to uphold the complaint, s/he may, as appropriate:
    • Instigate disciplinary action under the relevant procedure against the person against whom the complaint has been made (or request that that person's Head of Institution do so), in consultation with the Human Resources Division. (http:www.admin.cam.ac.uk/offices/hr/policy/).
    • Initiate steps to attempt a resolution of the issues, including consideration of a referral to the Mediation Service, if both parties agree. If a successful resolution is achieved the case will be closed, but the situation will be monitored by the Head of Institution or his deputy for an appropriate period.
  • Should action be taken against a party as a result of an investigation, the Head of Institution, while respecting confidentiality, will inform the other party of the fact that appropriate action has been taken.

  • Where an individual other than the Head of Institution has considered and made a decision regarding a Dignity at Work complaint, the Head of Institution will be informed of the outcome.

  • In all cases the Head of Institution, in consultation with the HR Division and, in the event of a case involving a student, the Head of OSCCA, will ensure the student and/or staff member(s) are kept up to date with progress and provided with any further information that has been agreed by both parties to be shared.