Complaint Process Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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When I submit a formal complaint with Employee Relations, where does it go?
Formal employee complaints receive an initial review by the Director of Employee Relations, who will consult with the Assistant Vice President for University of Florida Human Resources (UFHR), the Title IX Coordinator, or other administrators, when appropriate.
After initial review, complaints determined to be focused on (or limited to) departmental issues will be referred back to the employing department to be managed by the ER Manager/HR Liaison for informal resolution. If the matter involved potential violation of UF regulation or policy, the complaint will be assigned to an Employee Relations investigator, who will launch a formal investigation.
Keep in mind the ultimate goal is to find a lasting resolution to the problem. ER will work with the complainant to try to identify what may be both workable and satisfactory outcomes. A full investigation is not always necessary or appropriate.
What is the difference between a formal and an informal complaint?
Both the Informal and Formal complaints are official University complaints of violation of University regulations, policy, or standards. However, there are some key distinctions between the two types of two complaint.
Formal Complaints: A complainant may choose to file a formal complaint requesting that ER investigators conduct a formal investigation. Formal investigations typically include party interview, interviews of all or some of the individuals identified by the parties, a careful review of available documents and other supporting materials provided by parties and the witnesses (e.g., emails, memos, letters, photographs), and resulting in a written investigative report.
One of the desired outcomes of a formal investigation is a definitive finding (or set of findings) on whether the alleged misconduct is substantiated (i.e., investigators conclude it happened) or not substantiated (i.e., investigators conclude it did not happen). Such finding will be set forth in the investigative report.
But note, even if the complainant wishes to file a complaint formally, it is possible that the substance of the complaint does not necessitate a full investigation—sometimes abbreviated or cursory investigations are all that are necessary to determine whether the allegations of the complaint can be substantiate. That is, the investigators must retain some discretionary authority to assure they are empowered to conduct an appropriate review in the most efficient way possible.
Informal Complaints: A complainant may choose to file an informal complaint. The primary objective of an informal complaint is to attempt to reach a resolution or simply report misconduct. For example, an employee simply wanting misconduct to stop may ask that the investigators informally review the matter. Or, perhaps, the complainant has no real vested interested in the subject matter of the complaint, but they observed the misconduct and acted on their duty to report it (an “I just thought you should know” type of complaint).
In the informal process, investigators try to involve only those people necessary to facilitate a resolution. This could mean only interviewing the complainant(s), respondent(s) and relevant or impacted leadership. This is preferable when the allegations are not that egregious or when interviews of witnesses may not add much value and could actually cause more disruption to the work area.
If the investigators can quickly or easily identify misconduct, a formal investigation and formal investigative report may not be necessary to resolve the issue. It may be that the investigators conclude the investigation with a memo to file, instead of a formal investigative report.
At the same time, investigators take seriously every report of misconduct. An initial review of allegations may uncover more serious or widespread misconduct. If that is the case, the investigators may decide to conduct a formal investigation, even if the complaint was informally filed. That is, investigators possess the discretionary authority to investigate reported concerns of misconduct as they deem necessary.
What is a Management Directed Inquiry (MDI)?
Sometimes members in supervisory positions suspect misconduct is occurring within their areas. For a variety of reasons, they may ask Employee Relations to conduct an initial review into such suspicions. When the suspicions do not constitute serious or egregious misconduct, some managers may have the time, skills, and experience to conduct such reviews themselves. However, other managers may not have the time or simply prefer to have investigators assist them in identifying possible misconduct within their areas. We call those requests management directed inquiries (MDI). With an MDI, the investigator partners with supervisors and the HR Liaison for the area to determine what may or may not be going on within their areas.
If the investigator can quickly or easily identify misconduct, a formal investigation and formal investigative report may not be necessary to resolve an MDI. It may be that the investigator conclude the investigation with a memo to file, instead of a formal investigative report.
At the same time, investigators take seriously all types of suspected misconduct. An initial review of supervisors concerns may uncover more serious or widespread misconduct. If that is the case, the investigator may determine the underlying concerns of the MDI warrant a formal investigation. That is, investigators possess the discretionary authority to investigate reported concerns of misconduct as they deem necessary.
What is the difference between a complaint and a grievance?
An Employee Relations complaint is directed against another UF employee, alleging that they have engaged in misconduct or committed a policy violation (e.g., another employee is violating UF’s nepotism policy or policy prohibiting discrimination, misusing university property, etc.). You may be aware of the misconduct even if you are not directly impacted by it.
Alternatively, a grievance is alleging that you have been wrongly mistreated or disciplined in violation of a UF regulation, policy or collective bargaining agreement if applicable. For example, if you believe a disciplinary action taken against you was taken in error—you may grieve this. A grievance typically must be directly related to an action taken against you that impacts your employment and represents a violation of policy or written standard.
It is possible that an employee may want to pursue both a complaint and a grievance at the same time dealing with separate but overlapping issues. You can always contact Employee Relations if you are not clear whether a complaint or grievance may be more appropriate for your situation.
Who can file a complaint with Employee Relations?
Anyone may file a complaint with Employee Relations alleging misconduct or policy violations being committed by another UF employee (whether faculty, staff, undergraduate student worker, OPS, etc.). If you know that a UF employee is violating a policy or engaging in misconduct, we want to know.
Will I get in trouble for filing a complaint?
No, not if the employee is filing the complaint in good faith (i.e., the complaint is a sincere and honest complaint of a suspected policy violation or misconduct). Complaints should never be filed in an attempt to harm or retaliate against others.
If I file a formal complaint with Employee Relations, can I still file a grievance?
Filing a formal complaint through Employee Relations does not affect your ability to file a grievance (if a grievance process applies to your position type).
What is Conflict Resolution or Mediation mean at UF?
Not all complaints require an investigation to reach a resolution. In some cases, the investigative team will offer mediation to the parties, if they are willing to work toward a resolution. Not all situations are appropriate for mediation (e.g., theft, acts of violence, etc.). However, when a complaint may be efficiently resolved through a mediation process, this option is typically be offered to parties.
With attempts to resolve conflict, often the individual facilitating the efforts will listen to each side share their concerns, positions, and desired outcomes. The facilitator will attempt to find common ground and a workable path forward.
If attempts to mediate are unsuccessful, the matter can still be investigated, if the complainant so desires (i.e., they do not forfeit their ability to file a complaint by agreeing to mediate). In other words, there is no real down side, so long as the parties are willing to try to resolve the problem in good faith.
My complaint was referred to the Title IX Office. What does that mean?
Employee Relations investigates a wide variety of employee complaints. However, allegations that fall under Title IX of a federal law called the Education Amendments of 1972 may be referred to the Title IX Office for investigation. Referrals to the Title IX Office would likely be allegations primarily of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.
How long do investigations take?
It depends on the complexity and timeliness of the complaint. Every investigation truly is unique. In general, the goal is to process a complaint from the intake phase to the end of the investigation as promptly as possible. As you may imagine, the investigation process can take many twist and turns. Some investigations may involve as few as two witnesses, while other investigations may involve a dozen. As such, the processing of any complaint is completed in a time frame that is responsible and appropriate to the complexities of that specific investigation.
If I submit a complaint and feel that the person I complained about is retaliating against me, what should I do?
Retaliation against employees filing complaints (or participating in the investigation of a complaint) is prohibited. Unfortunately, it is possible that retaliation could still occur. If you believe you are being or have been retaliated against for filing a complaint or participating in an investigation, you should immediately contact the investigator, your supervisor, HR Liaison, or the Director of Employee Relations. Additionally, you would be fully justified in filing a new and separate complaint alleging retaliation based on participation in the original complaint or protected activity. The university takes claims of retaliation very seriously.
Can I file an anonymous complaint?
Yes, you can file an anonymous complaint through the UF Ethics and Compliance Hotline either by calling the hotline (1-877-556-5356) or by submitting a complaint online through the Web Reporting System. Be sure to include all details of your complaint. One way to ensure the most knowledgeable individuals to the complaint are interviewed is to identify all of the people (including yourself) who have personal (eye-witness) information about the allegations contained in the complaint.
When the complaint is over, what documents can I have a copy of?
The complainant (person filing the complaint) and respondent (the person(s) against whom the complaint was filed) will receive copies of the investigative report. Once the complaint process is over, other documents associated with the complaint can be requested (for a fee) via the Florida’s public records laws. See UF’s Public Records Center for additional information.
Whose side are ER investigators on?
No one’s side. ER investigators function as neutral investigators and independent fact finders operating in an impartial manner. The goal of ER investigations is to determine what actually happened. Their role is not to take sides but to find the truth.
If I am struggling with a work problem, are there other resources available to me?
Yes. There are several other UF resources you may want to consider in addition to pursuing a complaint:
- U Matter, We Care is an umbrella for care-related programs and resources for students and employees. It includes the Office of Victim Services; a program that trains people to recognize signs of distress; and other resources.
- The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides employees with free and confidential consultation with licensed mental health professionals and facilitates workshops and trainings for groups, addressing topics such as stress management. To contact the EAP, please call (352) 392-5787, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit eap.ufl.edu. Similarly, the University of Florida’s Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC) is a great resource that is available for students.
- The university’s Ombuds program serves as a confidential resource and neutral party for those who may have a university-related concern or problem or who want to talk privately about a UF policy or procedure. The Ombuds for Students and Staff may be reached at (352) 392-1308. Faculty may contact the Office of the Faculty Ombuds at (352) 273-1708 or email@example.com, and faculty in the College of Medicine may contact the College of Medicine Faculty Ombuds at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Faculty and staff who wish to report a specific concern may do so anonymously via the UF Compliance Hotline at 1-877-556-5356 or online via UF’s Reporting System.
- Reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking should be directed to the university’s Title IX Coordinator by calling (352) 273-1094 or toll free at (888) 357-7332, or by emailing the Title IX Coordinator at email@example.com.
- UF Employee Relations also is available to assist with complaints or provide guidance on which office may be the most appropriate to contact with specific concerns. That office may be reached at (352) 392-1075 or by emailing EmployeeRelations@hr.ufl.edu.
Is there a deadline for filing a complaint?
To preserve evidence, ensure witness availability, and potentially protect others from similar behavior, it is recommended that complaints be filed with Employee Relations as soon as possible after the event or incident. Although extenuating circumstances may impact your ability, willingness, and/or desire to timely file, complaints made more than 365 days after the alleged violation would generally be considered untimely. However, even an untimely complaint will go through the intake process to determine whether additional review may be warranted. Such decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. For good cause, the filing deadline may be waived by the Director of Employee Relations.
An investigator contacted me saying I am a witness to a complaint. I don’t want to get involved (or I’m just too busy). Can I say no to the request for an interview?
Technically, no. There are university regulations that require your cooperation. (See UF Reg. 1.008, applying to employees; UF Reg. 4.041, applying to students.) But the full answer to this question goes beyond regulations. Your cooperation is required to ensure the university responds justly to anyone who believes they have witnessed misconduct or been the victim of another’s inappropriate acts. Similarly, your cooperation is required to ensure that any UF employee wrongfully accused of misconduct is appropriately exonerated. We can all imagine being in the shoes of a victim or a person wrongfully accused. We would want (and expect) the people who could help set the record straight to step up and be honest and forthcoming.
University regulations prohibit you from withholding information, impairing, or obstructing the investigation. Your failure to fully cooperate could result in a finding that you have violated university policy. Keep in mind the bigger picture is the university’s desire to get to the truth behind the complaint. Please understand the important role every witness plays in ensuring misconduct is identified and stopped and, similarly, employees accused of misconduct who have not engaged in such conduct are fully exonerated.
Can I suspend or withdraw my complaint after reporting to Employee Relations?
Generally, no. Once the university is on notice of potential misconduct, it is obligated to investigate, irrespective of whether the person complaining asks to suspend or withdraw the complaint. Of course, there are always exceptions. If a person with a pending complaint wants to suspend or withdraw the complaint, he or she can contact the Director of Employee Relations to discuss such a request. The Director of Employee Relations retains the discretionary authority to grant such a request, but will do so only in rare circumstances when it is determined the university does not have a duty or obligation to investigate.
Will the investigative report be made part of my official personnel file if I am either a complainant or respondent is an Employee Relations investigation?
No. Investigative reports are not placed in the official UFHR employee personnel file.
Will my identity as a complainant be kept confidential?
Due to Florida’s broad public records laws, the only way a complainant’s identity can remain unknown is if the complaint is anonymously filed with the UF Compliance Hotline by calling (877) 556-5356 or by using its online reporting service. Employee Relations acknowledges the potential impact investigations may have on careers and/or reputations.
I couldn’t find my question here. What should I do?
If you have a question about the ER complaint or investigative process that was not answered in the FAQs (or on our website), please contact Employee Relations. We are happy to assist you!
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