Internal conflict management guidelines
The guidelines have been approved by the HR Director at OsloMet on October 1, 2015.
OsloMet aims to create an inclusive and inspiring working environment that stimulates interaction, learning and development.
OsloMet must create an environment that promotes freedom of expression
This means that we want our employees to feel safe during their work days and confident about reporting on lamentable circumstances. All employees at OsloMet must be familiar with our conflict management guidelines. They are expected to accept its content and act accordingly.
OsloMet’s vision is “New knowledge, new practice”
In order to create new knowledge and new practice we must challenge the established and promote a culture of academic discussion. We must allow space for different views and have an atmosphere in which individuals feel safe that conflicts and disagreements are not allowed to compromise human dignity and health. Our employees shall disseminate their knowledge and express their views, but without offending others or triggering inappropriate reactions from colleagues.
The purpose of the guidelines is:
- To increase the managers’, employees’ and their representatives’ awareness and understanding of improper conduct at the university
- To provide managers, employees and their representatives at all levels of the university with an action-oriented structure to identify, prevent and manage issues related to improper conduct
- To provide managers and employees with tools to prevent and manage conflicts as early as possible in order to avoid escalations.
- That conflicts between individuals or groups at OsloMet are managed in an appropriate and predictable manner.
Scope and extent
The guidelines apply to all units and employees and OsloMet
The guidelines describe the university's case procedures in conflict cases - both informal and formal reporting. Conflict matters are considered as falling under the Working Environment Act's requirements for the psychosocial work environment;
The work shall be facilitated to ensure the integrity and dignity of the individual (wea. section 4-3 (1))
Employees shall not be subjected to harassment or other improper conduct (wea. section 4-3 (3))
Wea. section 13-1prohibits discrimination.
Any violation of these conditions will be referred to as improper conduct in the Guidelines. For more detailed definitions of the guidelines’ key terms, see Appendix 1.
Institutionalised conflicts with separate rules are not covered by the guidelines, for example. industrial action / strikes.
Responsibility and impartiality
The term manager is in these guidelines always used to describe managers with HR responsibility.
The manager with HR responsibility is responsible for ensuring that the guidelines are followed
Managers may, based on justifiable reasons, delegate specific tasks in an action plan for conflict management, but they may not delegate the responsibility for preventing and managing conflicts, nor for restoring a fully satisfactory working environment. The manager must at all times maintain the overall control function in order to ensure that this responsibility is properly safeguarded.
The requirements for appropriate case procedures prevent managers from managing cases they are personally involved in. In such cases, the manager is responsible for ensuring that complaints are handled by the manager at the level above – from a procedural point of view, cases should not be handled at the lowest possible level in the organisation, but at the right one. Managers must self-assess their own role and disqualification upon suspicion, complaint or whistleblowing, and ask for assistance from the local HR unit when in doubt. If the manger is a party to the case or if other circumstance are likely to undermine his or her reliability, the manager must not handle the matter.
There is nothing wrong with being disqualified, but if so, you must leave the case to the manager at the level above. Read more about impartiality here.
Please note that both managers and safety representatives are obliged to act if they become aware of events or conditions in the workplace and in the working environment that are, or may be, illegal. According to the Working Environment Act’s duty to cooperate, this also applies to other employees such as colleagues, HR advisers, HSE adviser etc., see Appendix 2.
Approach - administrative procedures
How a situation is experienced will differ from person to person. Anyone who considers themselves a victim will always have more choices. Figure 1 displays these choices as well as the further course of the administrative procedures in conflict cases at OsloMet
0. No action
Even though OsloMet wants its employees to report about difficult situations in the workplace and in the working environment, the person who is exposed to improper conduct has the right to not to do anything about it.
This choice, however, implies that you are not allowed to disseminate information about experiences and incidents to colleagues and others in the workplace. OsloMet does not under any circumstances accept reactions (revenge) against the other party as this is also a violation of the Working Environment Act.
Important to remember
Managers and colleagues must ensure that the employer or safety representative is notified as soon as they become aware of the occurrence of improper conduct in the workplace - this also applies to the offended if he / she witnesses similar behaviour towards others. If stories of unfortunate incidents propagate like rumours and gossip, the opposing party will not have the opportunity to present their case, contradiction, nor would it be possible to implement measures to deal with the situation.
Even though the offended initially choose not to act, they still have the opportunity to do so within a reasonable amount of time. This is especially true if the incidents are repeated or if the situation does not improve.
Anyone exposed to unacceptable behaviour can choose to seek counselling in order to try to resolve the situation through informal conversations and actions.
There must be room for common sense in order to allow staff members to discuss the matter in confidentiality with others for seeking advice. Advisers, such as employee representatives, may be useful in these situations and may assist in finding informal solutions.
Another important option is that the offended party contacts the person or persons behind the perceived wrongdoing directly to explain his or her experience. However, this is a choice and not a duty
The formal administrative procedures describe three different forms of reporting - application, whistleblowing and complaint - which apply to circumstances related to conflicts and inappropriate behaviour at OsloMet.
Application is used when a staff member promotes a wish / proposal for change, either in writing or verbally (e.g. changing office, project, etc.)
An application (see figure 2) is a verbal or written request for action in situations where there is no clearly defined counterparty or where you consider the problem to be your own experience and reactions more than the counterparty's behaviour. Any justifications for the applications cannot involve allegations of third parties; that would be a complaint.
Applications must be used to manage problems and challenges which in the long run could result in conflicts
An application can be verbal or in writing and must be given to the immediate manager with HR responsibility
The manager must evaluate the application in consultation with the applicant and decide whether the proposal promoted should be granted or not.
The applicant must be informed of the final decision which must be justified.
A complaint (see figure 2) is a message about unfortunate circumstances from the one who consider himself affected and which involves an allegedly guilty counterparty.
OsloMet wishes to handle conflicts as early as possible and at the most appropriate level in the organisation. If someone is exposed to improper conduct, the complaint should be addressed to the immediate manager. If the employee finds that the manager or the manager at the level above is a party to the case, he or she may contact the head of the local HR unit. If in doubt about whether to notify about the matter or about how to proceed, contact the employee representatives or HR - they will be able to provide advise (see Appendix 2).
A complaint about alleged improper conduct may be communicated both verbally and in writing. The complaint must clearly state:
Who is being accused
Sequence of events
Time and place of the relevant events
Name of possible witnesses
When the complaint is verbal, the employer must put it down in writing in the form of minutes from the meeting in which the complaint is put forward.
When a manager has received a complaint, he or she has a duty to act on this.
OsloMet distinguishes between whistleblowing from a procedural point of view in conflict management situations and whistleblowing according to the university’s whistleblowing guide.
These guidelines define whistleblowing as a notification – a report of an observation - about problematic conditions or improper behaviour which does not involve the person reporting. If the person reporting is a party to the case the guidelines will define it as a complaint.
One may report on observed conditions both verbally and in writing. There are no specific requirements about form and content of the notification, but it is advantageous to give as precise a description as possible of the case:
What are you reporting on?
Where and when did it occur?
Who is involved/are there witnesses?
Any knowledge of previous matters?
The more comprehensive the case description, the easier it will be for the recipient of the notification to follow up on the case.
Employees can notify
in the line - to the immediate manager or the manager at the level above,
to safety representatives,
to employee representatives or
to other internal bodies that can help resolve the matter.
If you have tried reporting through official channels without obtaining results or if you believe it to be unlikely that the case can be resolve in the line, the matter can be brought up at the university level. In this case we refer to the university's whistleblowing guide.
Whistleblowing at the university level should not replace ordinary conflict resolution and communication with the responsible managers, but rather constitute an additional channel when lamentable circumstances cannot be solved in the line.
The administrative procedures upon whistleblowing are the same as in case of complaints, see figure 2.
A fully satisfactory working environment
Managers have a duty to maintain a fully satisfactory working environment while investigations are ongoing. The duty to act does not, at this stage of the case procedures, include identifying a guilty party, but implies the duty to safeguard all parties along the way. Depending on the situation and needs, the manager must make an assessment as to whether it is necessary to implement short-term measures, e.g. shielding, while the case is ongoing.
Examination of the actual circumstances and contradiction
Correct case procedures are important in order to ensure an appropriate conflict management. When the employer is informed of the occurrence of improper conduct in the unit, he or she must first of all examine the actual circumstances of the matter.
Contradiction is the parties' right to make their arguments and to respond to what the counterparty or others have already stated (Einarsen and Pedersen 2011).
In case of complaint, the sender will not be anonymous. The employer will not be able to handle a complaint unless the person involved is known. The complainant must count on having to explain the matter during the investigations, and the person complained of has the right to receive information about the complaint and to comment on the matter.
All employees have the right to bring a person whom they trust, for example an employee representative, to meetings about the working environment.
OsloMet will treat all matters with respect and discretion. Information and details contained in the investigation will not be disclosed to more people than absolutely necessary.
The manager should first talk to those who are directly involved. By not disclosing the matter to more people than strictly necessary, one can avoid unnecessary further escalations and/or complications of the conflict.
If incoherencies are revealed in the explanations, or between explanations and other information about the matter, the manager should present this to the parties in an opposing manner.
Good communication in conflict cases can be difficult. The manager is therefore advised to draw up a plan to facilitate for satisfactory dialogue in and between meetings.
The manager should ignore all information of little relevance to the matter.
The person who has submitted a complaint must be informed about the progress and conclusion.
Method selection for obtaining information is free. HR at OsloMet has professional competency in this and may assists when needed. In case of deadlock in the negotiations, the manager, in cooperation with the local HR head of section or the HR director, will make an assessment and decide how the process will be further conducted.
Follow-up and rehabilitation
Duty to act
Foreseeable (see appendix 1)
Once the investigation of the actual circumstances has been completed, the manager must try to envision what is going on. An assessment must be made of whether the conflict should be regarded as a foreseeable part of the employment relationship or as something that has resulted in an unfortunate burden, thus triggering the duty to act (beyond what is needed to map the situation and inform the parties), see figure 2.
If the allegedly guilty party has been behaving in accordance with what can be considered as foreseeable, the case should be concluded quickly and the complainant and any other interested parties must be informed as soon as possible. If the investigation concludes that there has been no breach of law or guidelines, the manager will not take any action beyond informing the parties, as this may give opposing signals with respect to the conclusion.
When that is said, the manager has a responsibility to ensure that the case has not increased the risk of threats to the psychosocial working environment and must take the necessary measures if the working environment develops in an unfortunate direction in the aftermath of the case.
Unfortunate (see appendix 1)
If the investigation concludes that the circumstances are unfortunate – that violations of law (e.g. the Working Environment Act) or internal guidelines have occurred – the manger has a duty to act and must ensure that
A fully satisfactory working environment is restored and
that cases of violations are not repeated, or
that new violations do not occur as a consequence of the administrative procedures.
In order to create a fair, orderly and predictable framework, the manager should start the conflict management process with a focus on laws and regulations. In this regard, the manager must explain to the parties that in order to comply with the requirements of the Working Environment Act (wea. section 4-1, paragraph 2 cf. section 2-1) he/she is required to take action and the parties have a duty to contribute (wea section 2-3).
If the complainant is deemed to be right in his/her complaint of improper conduct, or if it in any other way is possible to prove the existence of a harmful psychosocial working environment, the complainant should receive an apology from the university.
The manager must ensure that the employee is assisted in order to operate in a normal working situation.
The immediate manager is obliged to implement or propose measures if the investigations conclude that there has been a breach of the provisions of the Working Environment Act or of the internal guidelines.
It is the manager who is responsible for following up the guilty party with disciplinary measures if needed, and for making sure that the sanctions have their intended effect. This means that a follow-up plan, in which one assesses whether change has occurred and goals have been met, should be drawn up.
Depending on the specific case, measures can be found in the following three main groups:
- Official reprimand: This is the mildest reaction the manger can provide. Contrary to disciplinary measures, an official reprimand is intended as a guideline for future conduct. A warning given as an official reprimand is not subject to special regulations, but should normally be given in writing so that one can prove that a warning has been issued.
- Disciplinary measures: These measures are enshrined in the State Employee Act and include disciplinary punishment, termination of service or dismissal and suspension. Disciplinary punishment may entail loss of seniority from one month to two years, or permanent or temporary relocation to another position.
- Relocation of one or more of the persons involved: In such situations, one should not relocate the person(s) exposed to improper conduct if this can be perceived as a punishment.
Appealing the measures
For appeals against measures such as disciplinary punishment, termination or dismissal, separate administrative procedures and appeals procedures apply, according to the State Employee Act, the Act relating to universities and university colleges and the Public Administration Act, see also chapter 5 of the staff regulations (in Norwegian).
All activity can in theory form the basis for documentation. In early stages of a conflict, written documentation may unnecessarily escalate the conflict, and the manager must therefore continuously assess whether it is appropriate to undertake additional measures to document sufficient activity. In case of allegations of harassment, the severity of the case is so high that good documentation is always required.
Paper documents (such as handwritten notes and minutes) must be scanned into the document management system and shredded as soon as they have been made electronically available. The names of the persons involved in the conflict must not appear in the case title or document title. The default title used is Conflict Management - [subject word].
Documentation in connection with the administrative procedures of conflict cases must not be included in the staff folder! The manager, with the assistance of SDI, is responsible for the creation of a separate case with a limited access group in the P360 case file.
In order to limit access to conflict management issues, the Limited Group in Public 360 should always be used. Only selected SDI employees have access to this group.
The case officer who is appointed as the case manager will receive access to the case and the documents for which he is responsible. The case officer has the opportunity to provide extended access / rights to others who he thinks should have access to the case documents.
In the event of a decision on disciplinary matters, or if the case is terminated by legal procedures (matters of principle / precedent creating nature), the routine for this must be followed.