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Harassment: when informal solutions aren’t enough

Susan*: “My colleague has been harassing me for several months. I have tried to put things right in a friendly way with him, informally, but he won’t admit that he’s done anything wrong. What can I do?”

In my article in March 2019, I explained the advantages of an informal approach to conflict resolution. But if, as in Susan’s case, you can’t find common ground on which to resolve your conflict, you should consider starting the formal procedure** described in Operational Circular No. 9, which applies to everyone working at CERN or on CERN’s behalf.

In this case, Susan should contact the Chair of the Harassment Investigation Panel. Her complaint will be dealt with by an Investigating Subpanel in three phases: the initial assessment phase, the investigation phase and the decision.

During the initial assessment phase, the Subpanel has 30 days in which to examine the receivability of the complaint, on the basis of the behaviour described (provided that the complaint has been filed within the specified time limits). The alleged victim is then invited to an interview.

If the complaint is receivable, the investigation phase begins. Firstly, the alleged harasser has 30 days to submit a written statement outlining his or her side of the story. The Subpanel than has 60 days in which to carry out its investigation, consisting of interviews with the alleged victim, the alleged harasser and any witnesses, and an examination of the various documents submitted. There is never any direct interaction between the alleged victim and the alleged harasser. All the documents submitted to and accepted by the Subpanel (in particular the complaint and the alleged harasser’s response) are forwarded to both parties once the investigation phase begins. At the end of this phase, the Subpanel submits a written report to the Director-General.

The Director-General must then, within 30 days, make a decision as to whether harassment has occurred or not and whether disciplinary action or administrative measures should be pursued. Once the decision is made, the Director-General has five days in which to inform the two parties of the conclusions.

As I indicated in my previous article, whatever the nature of the conflict, you are always encouraged to seek an informal solution. If this is impossible, ineffective or not applicable, a formal procedure is the only option. It will take up more resources, but it is there to protect you. If you have any questions about the formal procedure or possible informal solutions, see this table on the various support structures available at CERN.

*Names have been changed

** Other formal procedures, not covered in this article, are in place for disciplinary sanctions, fraud investigations and appeals against administrative decisions.

Pierre Gildemyn

If you’d like to comment on any of my articles or suggest a topic that I could write about, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at Ombuds@cern.ch.