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Guidance for those involved in formal action in the investigation into a complaint of harassment and/or bullying


These guidance notes are to inform those 1 involved in the investigation of a formal harassment or bullying complaint and should be read in conjunction with UCL's Policy on Harassment & Bullying at Work, especially section 7 'investigating a formal complaint', to which they are a supplement.

UCL recognises that harassment and bullying complaints may be difficult and stressful for all the parties involved, so these guidance notes should alleviate concerns about the process and clarify what is involved. Those involved are reminded of the various support networks available:

Responsibilities of all parties

Attention is drawn to section 7.4 of the policy Harassment & Bullying at Work, regarding confidentiality. Any breaches of confidentiality will be dealt with through the appropriate disciplinary process.

All documentation and records of discussions will be used only for the purpose of this investigation and for any subsequent disciplinary action that should result from the investigation.

It is incumbent on those involved to deal with harassment and bullying complainants with the utmost sensitivity in a thorough and professional manner.

The timeframe for investigating a formal complaint is set out in section 7.1 of the policy, to ensure that harassment/bullying complaints will be dealt with as speedily as possible.

In the event that disciplinary action results as an outcome from an harassment and bullying investigation, the complaint and any of the evidence gathered during the investigation could be used during such a process. It should also be noted that as detailed in section 1.5 of the policy any complaint that is found to be malicious will be appropriately dealt under the disciplinary procedure.

Guidance for Complainant

It is appreciated that harassment and bullying complaints are not entered into lightly and that the process may be difficult and stressful, especially for the complainant to recall specific details of the harassment/bullying. However precise details will assist the panel with the investigatory process. You should try and be as precise and explicit as possible about details of the times, dates and places that incidents took place and if there may be witnesses, the names of those who can be called to give evidence. You should also give details about any previous, unsuccessful efforts to resolve the matter info rmally.

Within 5 working days of receipt of your complaint by HR, you will receive a formal acknowledgement. Within 5 working days of receipt of your complaint by HR, the respondent will also be notified of your complaint and asked for a written response. The date for the hearing will also be agreed at this time with all those involved. You will have access to the respondent's submission, or response and any witness statements.

Your attention is drawn to the role and remit of the panel outlined below in the guidance for the chair of the panel. The Panel will review all the written submissions and is likely to want to interview you, the respondent and any relevant witnesses. Exceptionally if the Panel feels that the paperwork is sufficient on which to make the judgement, it is possible that the Panel may choose not to interview you. Any interview will be undertaken in a sensitive manner and you will be asked relevant questions pertaining to your complaint. You will not be interviewed in the presence of the respondent. You should also detail any incidences of retaliation or victimisation if these have arisen since you made a formal complaint. The interview will usually be undertaken by the full panel and you will be able to have a TU representative or a work colleague with you for support if you wish. It is important to remember that the panel is there to investigate your complaints, reach a conclusion and produce a report based on its findings; therefore, it is your best interest to be as honest and objective as possible in your answers.

A written record of the meetings will be taken by HR, which may be used in any subsequent disciplinary hearing if the case is upheld.

Guidance for the respondent to a complaint 

Individuals will be informed of a complaint made against them within 5 days of its receipt by HR and asked for a written response within a specific timescale.

Although every effort should be made at an info rmal stage to resolve a complaint of harassment and bullying, UCL realises that the receipt of a formal complaint nevertheless may be unexpected and very unsettling. The allegations made against you may come as something as a shock and it is important to remember that these have arisen as a result of how your actions have been viewed by another person and typically the inability to resolve a situation at an informal stage.

It is important that when writing your response you remain focused on the issues raised and although context and other supporting evidence can be helpful, it is essential that you focus your response on the allegations made. The copy of the complaint sent to you will have had the paragraphs numbered and it would be of great assistance to the panel if your responses were structured in line with this numbering. You may wish to provide the panel with names and details of any witnesses to the incident or actions in question, if there are any. The panel will then decide if they wish to interview those named.

Your attention is drawn to the role and remit of the panel outlined below in the guidance for the chair of the panel. The panel is likely to interview you and the complainant and you may have a TU representative or work colleague with you for support. You will not be interviewed in the presence of the complainant. If interviewed you will be asked questions in relation to the complaint and the written response you have provided. It is important to remember that the panel is there to investigate the complaint, reach a conclusion and produce a report based on its findings; therefore, it is your best interest to be as honest and objective in your answers as possible.

Guidance for Chair of the panel

As the Chair of the panel you will have been nominated by the Chair for Committee for Equal Opportunities and it will be your role to coordinate the investigatory process, maintain the focus and direction of the investigation, ensure objectivity of all the panel throughout the proceedings, ensure that meetings take place within the agreed timeframes and to finalise the report based on the panel's enquiries. It is incumbent on the Chair (as well as other panel members) to ensure that the complaint is thoroughly investigated with the utmost sensitivity and expediency and to ensure that the confidentiality of the process is maintained.

After receipt of the complaint and the written responses you will meet with a representative from HR to discuss the process and the proposed format for the investigation. The investigation process is fairly flexible and it will be for the panel to determine the detail depending on the type of complaint you are dealing with and the number of people involved. A briefing on harassment and bullying will take place at the first pre meeting of each formal investigation panel. At this meeting, the panel should also discuss and agree the main is sue s of concern and then decide what further details they need. These can be provided either through documentary evidence, witness statements or possibly by visiting particular locations to see how the physical environment might be relevant to a complaint.

The panel has responsibility for ascertaining the facts pertinent to the case. It should decide who it wishes to interview and how it will undertake the interviews. Normally, the full panel would interview the complainant(s), respondent(s) and any relevant witnesses individually in this order. It may also wish to interview other relevant people who may not have been mentioned by either party. It is not for the complainant(s) or respondent(s) to call witness and there are no rights of cross examination of witnesses. It is not appropriate for witnesses to act as 'character' witnesses for any of the parties. It is advisable for you to ascertain the strengths and interests of each of the panel members as you may want to allocate particular is sue s to different panel members. The discussion must remain focused on the allegations in question and not stray into areas not directly related to the complaint. It is also important that no panel member introduces views of any of the parties based on their dealings with them in the past or things they have heard about them from others.

It will also be necessary for you to ensure that the individual being interviewed is treated sympathetically and if they appear to become distressed by the process, an adjournment or short break should be arranged.

There will be a member of HR staff making a comprehensive (but not verbatim note) and it is important that panel members keep their own notes of what they consider to be key parts of the submissions.

Tangible evidence may not always be available to either prove or disprove a complaint, for example when it is a matter of one person's word against another but it remains the function of the panel to decide who it believes based on the evidence it has heard and seen. The test the panel should apply is "on the balance of probabilities", (the test that would be applied by an Employment Tribunal), rather than "beyond all reasonable doubt".

As Chair, you will have the determining view on any particular is sue over which there may be disagreement amongst the panel members. Once you feel the panel has discussed, analysed and gathered all the relevant info rmation, it is your role to facilitate agreement on the outcomes of the investigation and produce a structured and focussed report for the Chair of the CEO.

The report must detail the issues; the process undertaken; details of who was interviewed and the rationale for how the panel reached its decisions. If appropriate you should also make recommendations as to what further action is required, perhaps to avoid the same problem happening again, or to restore healthy working relationships between the parties. Exceptionally, you may find that the complaint was malicious and recommend action against the complainant. The HR panel member can assist in the final drafting of the report and will have experience of the format required.

Guidance for panel members

You will have been selected to sit on this panel by the Chair of the CEO and the Director of HR. Should you have a relationship with any of the parties to the complaint or the witnesses, either personal or professional, which could give rise to a conflict of interest, either real or perceived, you must declare this to the Chair of the panel or Director of Human Resources immediately. As a member of the panel, it is your role to work together with other panel members to investigate the is sue s raised in the complaint and to produce an objective and reasoned report with recommendations as a result of your enquiries. The Chair of the panel will remain in control of the process but you will be able to debate freely the is sue s that arise during the investigation.

You will receive a copy of the complaint and written responses from the respondents. Your attention is drawn to the role and remit of the panel outlined above in the guidance for the chair of the panel.

You may want to prepare some questions in advance of the meetings so that each panel member knows which area they are focussing on. During the interview it is important to remain focussed on the substantive issues of concern and also to record your own notes of what particular issues you feel are crucial to the panel's deliberations. When discussing and analysing the info rmation you will need to participate fully and be able to justify any views you form with evidence gleaned from the documentation or the notes of the interviews. There will be an overall note of what has been said recorded by a member of HR staff, but these will not be a verbatim record.

It is important to note that one of the panel members is a qualified and experienced HR adviser. S/he is also available for professional advice on people management is sue s, legislative concerns and any is sue s which arise regarding the procedure.

Guidance for witnesses

The investigating panel has decided that it wishes to ask you questions relating to the complaint that it is investigating. Anyone called by the investigatory panel to attend a meeting will be required to comply with this instruction. A trade union representative or a work place colleague may accompany you. Your attention is drawn to the role and remit of the panel outlined above in the guidance for the chair of the panel. You will not be interviewed in the presence of the complainant or respondent and any evidence or statement you make during this process will be dealt with confidentially. You will be asked to respond to questions that are relevant to the complaint but you will not necessarily be given full knowledge of the substance of the complaint. We realise this can be a difficult process but you will be expected to be as honest and objective on the is sue s raised as is possible. Any evidence or statement you make during this process will be dealt with confidentially but may be discussed with the parties to the complaint.

Guidance for TU rep or work place colleague

You will have been asked to accompany either a complainant; respondent or a witness to an interview by the investigatory panel set up to look into an allegation of harassment or bullying. Your attention is drawn to the role and remit of the panel outlined above in the guidance for the chair of the panel. Your role is to provide moral support to whomever you are accompanying and during the interview you will not be expected to speak to or answer questions put by the panel. However, you may of course ask for clarification of anything that is unclear, or for an adjournment or short break if your colleague is feeling distressed or uncomfortable. You may offer support and advice to the individual outside the interview process but must not discuss the complaint with anyone else.

Revised April 2006

1complainant(s),respondents, panel members, witnesses, trades union representatives or work place colleagues accompanying a complainant, respondent or witness.