University Senate Policies
Staff Complaint Process
ScopeNon-bargaining unit staff employees
This process is intended to resolve complaints arising between University employees and their supervisors.1 All non-union employees functioning in a supervised or supervisory capacity are subject to this Staff Complaint Process. This includes staff, administrators, and supervisors in their supervised or supervisory capacity.
Staff should have opportunity to express opinions, discuss complaints, and seek information on matters affecting their jobs. All levels of administration are expected to listen to and counsel staff on any work-related concerns raised.
The University encourages complaints to be worked out between the involved parties as much as possible, but provides this Staff Complaint Process2 for those situations where parties have been unable to reach resolution. This Staff Complaint Process includes an informal procedure that attempts resolution through mediation, and a formal procedure that reaches final resolution by means of hearing panels made up of other staff and supervisors. There is also an appeals procedure.
No staff members shall be subjected to retaliation or adverse treatment for participating in this Staff Complaint Process.
The implementation of the informal and formal procedures contained in this Staff Complaint Process depends on participation by the supervised and supervisory employees covered by this Process. Their contributions to this Process are considered service work to the University. All supervised and supervisory employees covered by this Process are encouraged to participate by contributing their paid time at the University to the implementation of this Process in roles such as mediators, advocates and hearing panel members, defined in Appendix I. Managers and Supervisors are encouraged to support this service work by supporting those who choose to participate.
The following sections of this document describe the policy purpose underlying the Staff Complaint Process, who may use this Process, matters covered under this Process, matters not covered under this Process, the informal and formal procedures involved in this Process, and two appendices. Appendix I provides definitions of terms and of roles of various individuals and groups involved in the implementation of the procedures and additional information on operating guidelines. Appendix II describes additional problem resolution options for staff including a chart. Throughout this document, the employee who is bringing a complaint is referred to as the "Complainant," and the person the Complainant is complaining against is referred to as the "Respondent."
I. Policy Statement
1.1 Syracuse University is committed to establishing and maintaining harmonious working relationships between supervisors and the employees whom they supervise. Toward that end, this procedure is intended to ensure the prompt and impartial resolution of disputes that have been addressed through supervisory channels but cannot be or have not been satisfactorily resolved.
1.2 A staff member may bring a support person to any or all of the meetings related to addressing a work-place problem. The support person cannot be an attorney. Staff Advocates (Appendix I), who are trained in conflict resolution techniques, are available as resources for Complainants to provide support and guidance throughout the entire process. As another option, the Complainant may choose his/her own support person instead of a Staff Advocate. The Complainant and the Respondent may also seek process assistance from the Human Resources Office. Contact the Staff Complaint Coordinator for more information at 443-1914.
1.3 If the unresolved dispute involves disciplinary action, the supervisor is not precluded from utilizing the University's discipline policy while waiting for the dispute to be resolved. Nothing in this procedure is intended to limit the University's right to manage and direct its work force and operations, including the University's right to adopt or alter any rule, policy or practice with advance notice.
1.4 Supervision of the Staff Complaint Process is the responsibility of the Associate Vice President-Chief Human Resources Officer, Human Resources with oversight responsibility by the Sr. Vice President, Human Services & Government Relations. The Diversity and Resolution Processes unit of Human Resources is responsible for the implementation of the Staff Complaint Process.
1.5 The Staff Complaint Process is subject to change from time to time and will be subject to periodic review and modification.
II. Who May Use This Process
This process is intended to resolve complaints arising between University employees and their supervisors.3 All non-union employees functioning in a supervised or supervisory capacity are subject to this Staff Complaint Process. This includes staff, administrators, and supervisors in their supervised or supervisory capacity.
III. Matters Covered Under This Process
This Process applies to complaints based upon actions, events, circumstances, or conditions that adversely affect the welfare or terms and conditions of employment of a staff member or a group of staff members, as specifically defined below:
3.1 Disciplinary actions, including documented verbal warnings, written warnings, suspensions and dismissals, in which the Complainant alleges that the Respondent acted inappropriately (e.g. disciplined too severely; violated University policy in the disciplinary action) or that the Complainant alleges he or she was not guilty of the offense of which accused.
3.2 Alleged violation of a specific University rule, policy or practice.
3.3 Acts of retaliation or reprisal against Complainant as a result of using this Process.
3.4 Acts of retaliation against witnesses or those giving information during the complaint procedures or other University proceeding.
3.5 Termination of employment of regular status employees.
3.6 Employees who wish to challenge an action or directive from supervision or management are required to first carry out the directive and later challenge it through this resolution Process.
IV. Matters Not Covered Under This Process
4.1 Acts of sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, age, disability, national origin, sex, or sexual orientation or other bases prohibited by applicable New York state or federal law.
4.2 Issues related to performance evaluation, or letters summarizing discussion or understanding unless the employee proves preliminarily the communication to be arbitrary and capricious. The phrase "arbitrary and capricious" describes an action or decision that is made without cause or without consideration of an objective standard, and is therefore totally subject to the whim or pleasure of the person or party in power.
4.3 Evaluations and termination during a probationary period.
4.4 Contents of University policies, procedures, and rules.
4.5 Certain managerial decisions or actions are excluded from this Process unless the Complainant can prove preliminarily the action to be arbitrary and capricious, including:
4.7 Employee disagreements with other employees. Complainant can call upon the appropriate resources, including the HR's Diversity and Resolution Processes unit, Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP), or PARC (Program for the Analysis & Resolution of Conflicts) in the Maxwell School (see Appendix II, Additional Problem Resolution Options).
V. Before Initiating Staff Complaint Process
A cornerstone of any problem resolution process is discussion between staff members and their immediate supervisors. Staff are encouraged to seek resolution of disputes through the supervisory processes whenever possible in advance of filing a complaint. In most instances this will include attempts to resolve the issue(s) with the participation of the individual's immediate supervisor, (e.g. Manager, Director, Dean or equivalent). Employees or supervisors desiring information about the institution's policies, practices, benefit entitlements and basic legal issues may call upon the Diversity and Resolution Processes unit of Human Resources. The Diversity and Resolution Processes unit may be asked for assistance and/or to attend a meeting upon the request of either party. The Staff Complaint Coordinator (see Appendix I, page 10) is also available to discuss alternative options in a confidential setting.
The Staff Complaint Process consists of (1) an informal procedure involving mediation, followed by (2) a formal procedure involving a Hearing Panel, and if necessary (3) an appeals procedure involving a Review Panel. An attempt at resolution through the informal procedure (mediation) usually precedes access to the formal procedure (a hearing panel), with one exception. Employees who wish to grieve a termination from employment with the University is the one exception that bypasses the informal procedure and moves directly to the formal procedure. These employees must contact the Staff Complaint Coordinator within 10 business days of receiving written notice of termination, and complete a Request for Hearing Form, in order to pursue their complaint through the formal procedure.
I. Informal Procedure
The informal procedure focuses upon mediation, and involves direct communication (generally in the form of meetings) between the Complainant, the Mediator (Appendix I, page 11) and the Respondent.
1 Faculty are included only when serving in a supervisory capacity and a decision made impacts a staff member who makes a complaint (see Section III).
2 Some language in this policy was adapted and modified from a similar policy at the University of Vermont.
3 Faculty are included only when serving in a supervisory capacity and a decision made impacts a staff member who makes a complaint (see Section III).
Definitions of Roles and Operating Guidelines
Definitions of Roles:
Staff Complaint Coordinator
The Staff Complaint Coordinator is an HR administrator whose duties include the general administration of the Staff Complaint Process, including the maintenance of all records, monitoring of deadlines, statistical reporting of results and execution of all responsibilities described in the Staff Complaint Process including:
All advocates, mediators, and panelists are employees covered by this policy who contribute their paid time at the University, serving to implement this Process. The Pool consists of individuals who have been employed at the University for at least three years, are in good standing at the time of appointment and have no disciplinary actions pending or made part of their personnel file that would indicate it would be inappropriate for them to serve in this capacity. Generally disciplinary actions older than two years will not be considered, but Human Resources reserves the right to go beyond the two years. It is desirable that these individuals be drawn from diverse areas across the University. The Senior Vice President for Human Services and Government Relations shall appoint Pool members for a term of two years following a validation process undertaken by the Associate Vice President, Human Resources in coordination with the Staff Complaint Coordinator. Initial terms of Pool members will be staggered to begin on alternate years. Pool members may reapply to serve additional terms. Prior to the beginning of their two-year terms Pool members will be required to undertake a training period appropriate for their role. Staff will be given reasonable release time from their normal duties to perform these services and will continue to be paid as usual.
The Complainant will draw the Mediator from the Pool of Potential Panelists, Advocates and Mediators. The Staff Mediator's responsibilities include:
The Complainant selects the Staff Advocate from the Pool of Potential Panelists, Advocates and Mediators. Responsibilities of Staff Advocates include:
A Hearing Panel consists of three members, including the Chair, and is drawn by the Staff Complaint Coordinator from the Pool of Potential Panelists, Advocates and Mediators. For the purposes of a hearing, a quorum shall be three members, including the Chair. If the Pool is representative of all employee groups (non-exempt, exempt, supervisory), one name will be drawn from a subset of the Pool of people in a similar employment situation as the complainant, and one name drawn from a subset of the Pool of people in a similar employment situation as the respondent.
Responsibilities of a Hearing Panel include:
The Chair of the Hearing Panel shall be drawn by the Staff Complaint Coordinator from the Pool of Panelists, Advocates and Mediators, and must receive training as a hearing officer. The Chair's responsibilities include those specifically described in the Staff Complaint Process and include:
The Review Panel hear appeals and consists of three people who are drawn from the Pool of Panelists, Advocates and Mediators by the Staff Complaint Coordinator. For the purposes of a hearing, a quorum shall be three members, including the Chair. If the Pool is representative of all employee groups (non-exempt, exempt, supervisory), one name will be drawn from a subset of the Pool of people in a similar employment situation as the complainant, and one name drawn from a subset of the Pool of people in a similar employment situation as the respondent.
Responsibilities of a Review Panel include:
The Chair of the Review Panel shall be drawn by the Staff Complaint Coordinator from the Pool of Panelists, Advocates and Mediators, and must receive training as a hearing officer. The Chair's responsibilities include those specifically described in the Policy and also:
A three-member Panel, comprising an Human Resources representative, and two staff members, one of whom is supervisory outside of the Complainant's area. Staff representatives will be drawn from the Pool of Panelists and the Human Resources representative will be selected by the Associate Vice President, Human Resources. This Special Panel is charged with determining whether there is jurisdiction for the complaint in this Staff Complaint Process, including whether a managerial act appears arbitrary and capricious, and should therefore be allowed into this Process.
Chancellor's Review Board
A three-member board appointed by the Chancellor, comprising vice presidents and other senior administrators outside of the complainant's area to confirm or return decisions in cases where the Associate Vice President for Human Resources or a Human Resources supervisor is the Respondent due to a decision he or she made.
Associate Vice President, Human Resources
The Associate Vice President, Human Resources is charged with the responsibility of the Staff Complaint Process, including:
Assistance for the Respondent
The Respondent may seek the assistance of the Human Resources Office in preparing to respond to a complaint and may seek the support of a peer to support her/him without voice at a complaint hearing.
Request for Hearing Form
An employee begins the formal procedure by filing a Request for Hearing form with the Staff Complaint Coordinator. An employee may obtain help in preparing the written complaint from the Staff Mediator or a Staff Advocate of his or her choice.
The form will include the following information:
The time periods prescribed in the Staff Complaint Process are intended as guidelines to which all are expected to adhere diligently and in good faith. Officials responsible for the administration of the Staff Complaint Process retain the prerogative to exercise reasonable discretion to extend or waive deadlines when necessary or appropriate.
The Staff Complaint Process will be conducted in confidence, to the extent allowed by law. All parties to the process are bound by confidentiality and will not share information about complaints except with those persons who, in the sound discretion of the Staff Mediator, have a legitimate need to know.
Maintenance of Records
The Staff Complaint Coordinator will maintain all records and evidence in confidential files according to statutory obligations. Such documents will not be placed in employee personnel files unless the Panel's decision is that a letter be placed in the file. Disciplinary sanctions imposed against a Respondent as a result of a complaint are confidential personnel matters, but they may be disclosed to the Complainant upon specific direction of the University official having final responsibility for the matter.
Retaliation against individuals who initiate staff complaints or cooperate with the investigation or other disposition of staff complaints is contrary to University policy. Retaliatory behavior is itself a form of misconduct that may form the basis for disciplinary action.
Compliance with Panel Decisions
Panel decisions are Institutional (University) decisions and failure to comply with them may lead to serious disciplinary actions.
Service to the University by Pool Members
Under normal circumstances the University will expect supervisors to grant the needed time to Pool members for service in this University Process. In unusual circumstances supervisors may contact the Associate Vice President, Human Resources to discuss special needs to excuse a member's participation.
Additional Problem Resolution Options
Differences, tensions and conflicts are inevitable in the workplace. How they are managed is the benchmark of productive workplaces. In addition to this Staff Complaint Process, there are many avenues for staff who work at Syracuse University to address work related issues. Below is a list of some of the resources available. SU employees are encouraged to address their concerns early.
It is expected that University staff members shall be fully informed about policies and procedures affecting them. Staff should have opportunities to express opinions, discuss complaints, and seek information on matters affecting their jobs. All levels of administration are expected to listen to and counsel staff on any work-related concerns raised. No employees shall be subjected to retaliation or adverse treatment for participating in any problem resolution process.
Supervisory Process: In most instances, disputes should initially be addressed within the supervisory structure before proceeding to other avenues for resolution.
Diversity and Resolution Processes: The Human Resources Office assists staff to help solve problems and answers questions that relate to their work environment, SU policies and procedures, and other job-related concerns. The Diversity and Resolution Processes staff is available upon request to work with both individual staff members and Supervisors University-wide. They may be consulted whether or not the Staff Complaint Process is utilized. Telephone 443-5464 and 443-1520.
Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP): This program offers confidential assessment, counseling, and referral services for a variety of personal and/or job related problems. Telephone 443-1087.
Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity unit: The Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity (AA/EO) unit of Human Resources implements the procedural guidelines for handling discrimination and harassment complaints. The purpose of those guidelines is to ensure that discrimination complaints, including unlawful harassment, are handled promptly and effectively and in a manner procedurally fair to all parties. Complaints of sexual harassment and acts of discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age or status as a disabled or Vietnam-Era Veteran are directed to the Associate Vice President, Human Resources or the Director of Diversity and Resolution Processes.
Employee disagreements with other employees: Complainants can call upon the appropriate resources, including the Diversity and Resolution Processes unit, Employee Assistance Program, or PARC (Program for the Analysis & Resolution of Conflicts) in the Maxwell School.
Links to Procedures and Related Information
Date: January 1, 2003
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