Employee Inquiry and Complaint Procedures

Introduction

All University of Florida (UF) employees should mutually strive to develop and maintain positive and effective working relationships. UF encourages open, honest, and regular dialogue between supervisors and employees about work expectations, standards, and performance.

Employee Relations (ER) encourages and promotes these positive working relationships among university employees through the efforts of its main office located in the UFHR Building (903 W. University Avenue), as well as ER satellite offices in the Health Science Center, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), and Facilities Services/Business Affairs.

ER staff are available to assist supervisors with coaching and counseling their employees; serve as an additional resource at employee meetings; recommend fair and appropriate disciplinary actions; provide guidance on documentation; help ensure consistency throughout the university community; and provide accurate information and guidance pertaining to various employee-related procedures, policies, and regulations.

ER staff are also available to assist employees with addressing and resolving workplace disputes; oversee the ER complaint process; and recommend additional resources that may be helpful to the employee’s situation. ER also oversees the process for accepting reports of suspected policy violations and complaints of employee misconduct.

Methods of Reporting Policy Violations/Perceived Misconduct

Informal Resolution: Addressing problems quickly and locally is often the best way to resolve an issue and move forward. Employees are encouraged to pursue informal resolutions to complaints and concerns through their immediate supervisor (or their supervisor’s supervisor, if the primary supervisor is the source of the complaint or concern). Supervisors have a responsibility to meet with the employee in a timely and professional manner to discuss the employee’s complaints or concerns and should consider reasonable solutions with the goal of remedying the situation consistent with university policy. Employees and supervisors are obligated to make earnest attempts at informally resolving problems since they are closest to the facts and in the best position to come up with feasible resolutions.

Formal Complaint Process: For complaints or concerns that cannot be solved through supervisory channels, ER manages the formal complaint process. Employees are strongly encouraged to file such complaints as soon as reasonably possible, as older complaints are more difficult to investigate. ER may decline to formally investigate complaints that are filed more than one year after the issue of concern occurred (or more than one year after the complainant gains knowledge of the incident). In addition to dealing with faded memories and lost data, delays in reporting complaints or concerns also often result in more substantial harm to the work environment and greater resentment among impacted employees.Those pursuing formal complaints are asked to complete the ER Complaint Form (or contact Employee Relations by calling (352) 392-0172 or emailing emprel@ufl.edu). Anyone filing a complaint should be sure to include any additional documentation that may be helpful in assessing the nature of the allegations.

Confidential/Anonymous Hotline Complaints: For employees who are not comfortable reporting concerns through their chain of command or through the formal complaint process, UF sponsors the Ethics and Compliance Hotline. The Ethics and Compliance Hotline is a confidential/anonymous way for employees to report concerns of suspected policy violations or misconduct. The UF Compliance Hotline is hosted by a third-party vendor to safeguard the anonymity of callers. The UF Compliance Hotline is accessible at any time of day and can be reached at 1-877-556-5356 or online through its Web Reporting System. If an employee chooses this method of reporting a complaint, he or she should be sure to include as many details as possible to allow for a meaningful investigation.

Overview of the Formal Complaint Process

Any UF employee who believes another UF employee has violated a UF policy or regulation or engaged in misconduct may file a formal complaint with ER by submitting a completed ER Complaint Form (or by contacting the Director of Employee Relations). Complaints should be accompanied by additional supporting documents, including a detailed narrative written by the complaining employee; copies of relevant emails, letters, memos, photographs; and anything else relevant to the allegations set forth in the complaint.

ER strongly encourages UF employees who suspect violations or witness misconduct to report such acts right away, as timely complaints are much easier to investigate. While ER will review any complaint, complainants should recognize that stale complaints are more difficult to investigate. Over time, memories fade, documents get misplaced, and witnesses may leave the institution.

In investigating workplace complaints, ER functions as neutral investigators operating in an impartial manner. One of the primary goals of ER investigations is to determine whether the employee accused of wrong-doing actually engaged (or is engaging) in activities that violate UF policy or expectations of conduct. While every investigation is unique, the investigatory process generally entails interviewing witnesses, collecting and analyzing relevant documents, and reviewing relevant UF policies and procedures.

If a policy violation or misconduct is substantiated through the formal complaint process, it then becomes the responsibility of the employing unit (not the Investigator and not ER) to determine the appropriate response, whether disciplinary or non-disciplinary.

Due Diligence in Investigating Complaints

As part of its efforts to exercise due diligence, ER is dedicated to conducting objective, prompt, and thorough investigations. ER ensures that the investigative process affords reasonable opportunities for both the employee who filed the complaint and the person or persons responding to the complaint to share their perspectives and provide documentation supporting their positions. The investigative process invites both sides to identify witnesses they believe possess relevant firsthand knowledge and may be helpful in establishing the facts material to the allegations set forth in the complaint.

While no investigation can be exhaustive, ER exercises reasonable care in collecting and analyzing all available information pertaining to the material allegations set forth in the complaint and any defenses offered by the person or persons responding to the complaint.

Standard of Proof

ER investigations apply preponderance as the standard of proof. Preponderance is basically establishing a fact more likely than not occurred. The preponderance standard  has  also  been  described  as  a  percentage,  such  as,  51%  or  even 50.1%.

Preponderance is the standard utilized by most universities in internal investigations because it reflects the legal standards that a jury would use in a civil trial or that an enforcement agency (such as the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission) would use in an administrative proceeding. Although ER investigations are not legal proceedings, the preponderance standard is widely applied in higher education as the standard of proof for employee complaints.

Part of the investigator’s role is to gather and analyze information sufficient to make a determination as to whether the allegations directed against a UF employee are substantiated by a preponderance of the information provided by the parties, witnesses, and supporting materials. The goal of establishing a clear and consistent standard of proof also assists the ultimate decision-maker (typically the immediate supervisor or division head of the person accused of wrongdoing) in responding to investigative findings.

Duty of Cooperation

Under university regulations, employees are required to cooperate with internal investigations. Any employee serving as a party or witness to an ER investigation is prohibited from withholding information, impairing, or obstructing the investigation, and failure to cooperate could constitute a violation of university policy. When employees feel they have been mistreated, the university has an obligation to investigate in a thorough, fair and timely manner. The investigator expects open and honest participation even if the party or witness does not believe that he or she has information of value and does not wish to be interviewed. (See UF Reg. 1.008).

The reasoning for requiring employee cooperation should be clear: If an employee is violating policy or engaging in misconduct, UF has a vested interest in stopping this behavior. Similarly, if an employee has been wrongly accused of engaging in misconduct, UF has the same vested interest in exonerating the employee. To most effectively, efficiently, and accurately assess allegations of misconduct, people with knowledge of the situation must share what they know.

Investigative Reports and Investigatory Findings

The University of Florida is committed to establishing and maintaining harmonious working relationships between supervisors and employees. Toward that end, the formal complaint process is intended to serve as a prompt and impartial resolution of disputes that have been addressed through supervisory channels but could not or have not been satisfactorily resolved.

Some complaints filed as formal may be referred back to the employing department if it appears the matter is best resolved informally. Other complaints may be very straightforward and require only a limited investigation. Such complaints that are either minor in nature or simple in form may not necessitate a formal investigative report. In some cases, a written case summary may be adequate.

More egregious and/or complex complaints may demand a full investigation. Such complaints will culminate in a written investigative report. These reports outline the investigative process and make findings of fact and contain conclusions on whether the alleged misconduct violated UF policy. Final reports will be referred back to the employing unit of the employee found to have violated UF policy or engaged in misconduct, where the appropriate discipline will be determined. The investigators do not make recommendations or determinations regarding discipline imposed on employees who have been found to have violated policy or engaged in misconduct. These are responsibilities of the supervisory chain of command.

Prohibition Against Retaliation

UF strictly prohibits retaliation against any employee who seeks assistance in resolving a concern informally, files a formal complaint, or participates in the investigation of a complaint. Any employee who believes he or she has been retaliated against for any type of participation in the ER complaint process should immediately inform his or her supervisor, HR Liaison, or the Director of Employee Relations.

Employees must feel comfortable and confident in reporting misconduct. Consequently, the university takes very seriously any allegation of retaliation or intimidation of anyone involved in the investigative process. Any supervisor or employee found to have engaged in retaliation will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Confidentiality

ER acknowledges the potential impact investigations may have on careers and/or reputations. Thus, investigators are vigilant in carefully identifying and involving only those individuals necessary to investigate complaints. At the same time, Florida’s broad public records laws mean that complaints, investigative materials, and investigative materials may be subject to disclosure.