Take action - defend the right to have a grievance heard at UCL

19 June 2019

On 2 May we wrote to you about an alarming case in College in which we said we believed Statute 18 protections of academic freedom were under threat. We reported again on 20 May that UCL had conceded that Academic Board would nominate one of the members of the Disciplinary Panel hearing the case. We continue to watch developments in this case.

Meanwhile, there is one particular aspect of that case that affects every UCL employee. This concerns the question of whether UCL is entitled to choose not to hear a Grievance (a 'staff complaint'). See the Appendix below.

We have constructed a petition to the Provost on this matter. Please consider signing it and forwarding it to colleagues. Names will not be published on the petition, although with members' approval we may publish comments.

This petition simply asks the Provost to agree that the Grievance in this particular case will be heard, and to confirm that UCL stands by its legal obligations to hear Grievances and Appeals more generally.

Colleagues are also invited to consider whether it is appropriate that a member of SMT subject to a grievance of this kind be permitted to sit on a panel to appoint the next Provost. We believe they should recuse themselves. But irrespective of your feelings on this point, we would encourage you to sign the petition.

More information about this matter is in the Appendix below.

Appendix: Background

It is a basic right of employment law for an employee to be entitled to file a complaint about any aspect of their employment. Such complaints, termed Grievances, are enshrined in legislation.

The statutory ACAS Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures requires that employers provide:

  1. the right to a formal Grievance Hearing where the employee can present evidence and hear witnesses in person, and
  2. the right to appeal the outcome of (1) at a second Appeal Hearing.

The case mentioned above began when two academic staff members filed parallel grievance complaints against a member of UCL's Senior Management Team (SMT). Both complaints were eventually investigated, but on receipt of the investigator's reports, one of the staff members was allowed the right to a Grievance Hearing, whereas the other - who made the more serious allegation - was not!

This is not the only case where UCL has denied staff their right to have grievances heard in practice. We have seen the same pattern emerge in other cases, sometimes by UCL delaying the process to the point where the employee leaves, or by allowing senior managers to make counter-allegations against the complainant and then insisting that these take precedence.

But we are now seeing something new: a small number of instances where HR or Management refuse point blank to hear a Grievance at all! Although the numbers we are aware of are few, a common thread appears to be to allow senior managers to avoid having to answer harassment or bullying complaints in person. If UCL denies a grievance from being heard, the employee's only recourse is then to the courts, an expensive and stressful process that few will undergo.

We believe that this question is not a mere technical or legal issue about UCL's internal complaint handling. Were complaints against Senior Management to routinely go unheard, it would have considerable implications for UCL governance.

Sign the Petition to the Provost

NB. We are attempting to determine how widespread this practice is, so there is a box at the bottom of the form to tick if you were prevented from having a grievance heard.