9.7 - Complaint Resolution Policies and Procedures

Any MIT student, faculty or staff member who believes that he or she was unfairly treated or that an employment policy was violated or misapplied is encouraged to resolve the concern through the complaint resolution procedures outlined below.  MIT is committed to providing a prompt, fair and impartial process from the receipt of a complaint to the final result.  MIT tries to address concerns while taking into consideration the interests of all involved – those raising a concern and those against whom the concern is raised, as well as co-workers and others who may be involved.

The complaint resolution process for complaints against those who work at MIT usually begins at the local level with an informal approach, which successfully resolves complaints in most situations. If the informal approach is not successful, or if it is not appropriate in the circumstances, a request for a Formal Review may be filed. Formal Reviews determine whether an MIT employment policy was violated or was misapplied (that is, applied in an arbitrary or capricious manner). Among the complaints covered by this procedure are allegations of violations of the Institute’s policies against discrimination and harassment. Specific provisions common to complaints by or against employees, such as confidentiality, protection from retaliation, and record keeping, are found in Section 9.7.5.

 

9.7.1 Complaints by or against Those Who Work at MIT

9.7.1.1 Application of Procedures

The procedures in this section apply in most situations to complaints alleging that a current MIT employee – faculty member, other academic, student employee, administrative, research, or support staff – violated an employment policy. Although complaints are typically made by one employee against another employee, the complaint resolution procedures may also be used for a complaint made against an employee by non-employees, such as a student, postdoctoral fellow, independent contractor, volunteer or another member of the MIT community. (Note: In this policy, the person bringing the complaint is often called “an employee,” even if the complaint is actually made by a non-employee member of the MIT community.)

Section 9.7 does not apply where more specific procedures exist for particular groups of employees or specific issues. For example, separate procedures exist for: faculty appointment and promotion matters (see Section 3.3 regarding promotion and tenure); MIT Medical staff regarding clinical privileges and for patient relations issues; allegations of academic misconduct in research and scholarship (at Section 10); employees represented by a labor union (where the collective bargaining agreements apply); and regarding security clearances.

9.7.1.2 Complaints by or against Faculty

If a current MIT employee has a complaint against a faculty member, the employee should first seek to resolve the matter through direct discussion, if feasible, as described in Section 9.7.2. If the matter is not resolved after using one or more of the informal options described in Section 9.7.2, the employee may request a Formal Review under the process set out in Section 9.7.3. Similarly, a faculty member may also use the Complaint Resolution process if he or she has a complaint against an MIT employee (including another faculty member) about the application of an employment policy, except as otherwise provided in this Section 9.7.1. In addition, for a complaint of discrimination or harassment against a faculty member, either person may request an Independent Investigation Panel under Section 9.7.4.

As noted, complaints about a decision not to promote or award tenure are covered by section 3.3. Other complaints about appointments should be raised at the relevant department or School level. An alternative route for an academic matter raised by a faculty member may include seeking advice from the Officers of the Faculty.

9.7.1.3 Complaints by or against Students

This policy applies to a work-related complaint filed by a student against an employee (including a supervisor).  If a complaint is made against a student who is working at MIT, either the informal process outlined below or the informal processes of the Office of Student Citizenship may be followed. However, a formal complaint against a student employed by MIT will usually be addressed through the Office of Student Citizenship, even if the issue arose in a work setting.

If students have other concerns, they are encouraged to seek assistance from one of the many resources at the Institute, for example, their advisors, department heads, or someone in their living groups. The Division of Student Life, Dean for Graduate Education, and Office of Student Citizenship websites provide some information on resources for students.

9.7.2 Informal Complaint Resolution Process

Employees, supervisors, and managers (including faculty) are encouraged to talk directly with one another about any concerns and complaints, with the goal of understanding perspectives and resolving differences in the immediate work environment where possible; supervisors in particular are encouraged to address concerns and complaints informally, and as early as possible (see Section 7.3.1). In most cases, it is recommended that an employee’s first approach is to discuss the concern directly with the person who has caused the concern or with the employee’s immediate supervisor.  Often, having such a discussion will resolve the concern, particularly where the concern is about offensive behavior and the person engaging in such behavior was not aware that the conduct was offensive to others.

Where this is not successful to resolve the complaint or appropriate in the circumstances, employees may choose to discuss their concern with successively higher supervisors in the center, lab, department, or school where the concern arose or with an Administrative Officer (AO) if applicable. (Note, centers, labs, departments, or schools may be referred to just as departments and/or schools in this policy.)

Alternatively, or at the same time they are speaking with their supervisors, employees may discuss a problem and seek advice informally from a departmental human resources professional, their human resources officer in the central Human Resources Office, their human resources professional at Lincoln Laboratory, or an Ombudsperson. In some circumstances, speaking with a health care professional from the Personal Assistance Program may also be helpful.

Informal dispute resolution methods attempt to facilitate the resolution of a concern or complaint directly by the individuals involved. Any decision about the resolution of the complaint is made by those individuals. Information about informal options (in the context of complaints of harassment) can be found at MIT’s Complaint Process and Resolution website.

9.7.3 Formal Review Process

9.7.3.1 Formal Review of a Complaint about an Employment Policy

If a complaint alleges a violation of an MIT employment policy, and an informal approach is not successful or appropriate in the circumstances, a request for a Formal Review may be filed. A Formal Review determines whether an MIT employment policy was violated or misapplied (that is, applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner). While a general complaint of unfair treatment may be reviewed using the informal process, the request for a Formal Review must specify one or more MIT policies that were allegedly violated or misapplied.

In most situations, a Formal Review may be pursued only after the employee making the complaint (the “complainant”) has attempted to use one of the informal dispute resolution methods. In rare situations, the human resources officer may determine that a complaint should move directly to a Formal Review. The Formal Review is not normally available to employees during their probationary period (usually during the first six months of employment), unless the complaint alleges discrimination or harassment based on a protected status.

Initial Review by Human Resources

The written request for a Formal Review must be made to a human resources officer (or, for Lincoln Laboratory, a human resources professional at the Lab). If the written request is made to someone else at the Institute, that person must inform the human resources officer or professional. The request must be received by the human resources office within a reasonable period of time after the occurrence of the alleged policy violation or the informal process concluded without resolution, whichever is later; this normally is 30 business days. The written request must specify the employment policy that was allegedly misapplied or violated, briefly state the facts supporting the complaint, and provide any relevant documentation. Within seven business days of receipt of the request for review, the human resources officer will acknowledge receipt of the request in writing, and will review it to determine if an informal resolution attempt is appropriate.

If the human resources officer determines (1) that an informal attempt at resolution might be successful (note that informal resolution using mediation is not permitted in cases of sexual assault) or (2) that there is insufficient evidence in the complaint that a policy was violated or misapplied, the complaint will not be submitted for a Formal Review. In such situations, the human resources officer will provide the complainant with a written explanation within 15 business days of receiving the complaint and may suggest alternative methods and resources available for resolution. A decision denying a Formal Review may be appealed to the Vice President for Human Resources within 30 business days of the date of the written explanation denying a Formal Review. The Vice President for Human Resources’ decision is final.

If an attempt is made at an informal review after a request for Formal Review has been filed, the request for a Formal Review is held in abeyance. If the informal resolution attempt is not successful, the Formal Review may be revived or the request re-filed within 30 business days after the date the informal process ended.

Formal Review

If the human resources officer determines that all or part of a complaint warrants a Formal Review, he or she will notify the management within the center, lab, department, or school where the person who is being complained about (the “respondent”) works.

The manager normally will be the respondent’s immediate supervisor or that supervisor’s supervisor. The manager is responsible for ensuring that an objective and timely review is done. The actual review may be done by the manager directly, or may be delegated to an appropriate person in that department, in the human resources office, or in another office in the Institute. In cases involving violations of policy that could also constitute violations of law, such as discrimination or sexual harassment, the review is generally done by a human resources professional or other experienced investigator. Moreover, any formal review that involves a claim of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking will be conducted by an individual who has received annual training on those issues and on how to conduct an investigation that protects the safety of victims and promotes accountability.

Even if the review is delegated, however, the manager retains certain responsibilities as noted below. Specifically, the manager and investigator will do the following:

  1. Manager ensures that an appropriate investigator reviews the complaint. In most cases, the investigator has not played a significant role in any prior attempts at informal resolution .
  2. Manager ensures that both the complainant and the respondent are notified in writing of the complaint, though the respondent is not normally given a copy of the complaint; that both parties are informed of the identity of the investigator; and that the issue of confidentiality is raised with both parties.
  3. Investigator conducts a review, determines whether it is more likely than not (preponderance of the evidence) that an MIT policy was violated or misapplied, writes a report summarizing the review and conclusions about violations of policy, and sends the report to the manager.
  4. Manager determines what, if any, action to take based on the report.  When a determination is made that an Institute policy has been violated, disciplinary action may include, but is not limited to, a reprimand (oral or written), a period of suspension, a reduction in salary, a demotion, a removal of privileges or termination of employment.
  5. Manager writes letters to both the complainant and respondent advising them of the findings made by the investigator and in the respondent’s case, what disciplinary action is being taken, if any.
  6. In cases of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking, the complainant and respondent will receive simultaneous notification in writing of the result of the investigation, procedures for appeal (if applicable – see 9.7.3.2), any change to the result, and when the results become final.
  7. A copy of the report is also provided to both the complainant and respondent.
  8. See section 9.7.5.3 about confidentiality and section 9.7.5.6 about record keeping.

After the investigation is complete, the manager remains responsible for following up to see whether the workplace conflicts have been resolved.

Timelines

In most cases, the following timelines apply: The complainant and respondent are informed of the Formal Review within five business days of the date the manager is notified of the request for a Formal Review. The investigation is normally completed within 75 business days from the date of notification of the identity of the investigator; however, in cases alleging sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking, the investigation is generally completed within 60 days of the date the complaint was received. The manager sends a decision within seven business days of receiving the investigator’s report. If any deadline cannot be met, the manager or investigator will inform the complainant and the respondent in writing (prior to the deadline) about the reasons for the delay and an estimated timeline.

Even if the review reaches the level of Formal Review or Appeal, complainants are encouraged to continue to try to resolve the dispute informally, if at all possible.

9.7.3.2 Appeal

The conclusions in an investigation report of a policy violation (or no violation) are generally final and cannot be appealed by either the complainant or the respondent, unless either person can raise one or more of the following grounds:

  • There was a substantial procedural error (the process was not followed in a way that could have significantly affected the outcome);
  • There is a finding of fact in the report that is material (would be important to the outcome of the case) that is not supported by the information provided to the investigator; or
  • There is new and specific information that is material to the outcome of the case and that was not considered at the time of the Formal Review.

The decision by the manager of what action to take in response to the conclusions of an investigation report (e.g., a warning or required training) cannot be appealed.

All appeals must be submitted in writing to a human resources officer (or human resources professional at Lincoln Laboratory) within 30 business days of receipt of the investigation report. The human resources officer will review the request and determine if one of the three grounds for an appeal has been asserted. If so, the human resources officer will notify the complainant and the respondent that the appeal will be considered.

The Vice President for Human Resources and/or a designee reviews an appeal.  The Vice President in conjunction with the designee decides an appeal (see below for appeal path for academic staff), and will:

  • Review the investigation report and any other relevant records or information he or she determines appropriate to consider
  • If necessary to consider the appeal, confer with the complainant, respondent or other participants
  • Determine if one of the three grounds for appeal applies

If the Vice President decides that no ground for appeal applies, he or she will notify the parties that the appeal has been denied. If the Vice President determines that a ground for appeal does apply, he or she will:

  • Affirm, modify, or overrule the conclusions in the investigation report, or
  • Refer the matter for additional investigation, reconsideration, or informal resolution.

The Vice President’s decision or referral will be made in writing within 30 business days of receiving an appeal.

A copy of the appeal decision will be sent to the complainant, respondent, manager, and the investigator (if any). If any conclusions of the investigation are modified or overturned in the appeal, the manager will reconsider any prior decision based on those modified or overturned conclusions, and will inform the complainant, respondent, and investigator of the results of the reconsideration.

In the case of an appeal of conclusions against a faculty member or other academic staff, the same process applies but the appeal is submitted to the respondent’s department head, the dean of the relevant School or to the Provost, depending on who was the manager initially reviewing the complaint. The person considering the appeal will inform the human resources officer of the appeal, and will consult with the human resources office on the process.

9.7.4 Independent Investigation Panel for Complaints of Harassment and Discrimination against Faculty

Complaints of harassment or discrimination in violation of MIT policies made by any member of the MIT community against a faculty member normally are handled in the department or local academic unit of the faculty member being charged, and follow the processes described in this section 9.7.

If, however, a complainant or respondent believes that an impartial investigation of a complaint of harassment or discrimination against a faculty member will not be possible in the department or local academic unit of the respondent, that individual may request that the Officers of the Faculty initiate or take over the investigation of the complaint through the means of an Independent Investigation Panel (IIP). This process cannot, however, be evoked as an appeal of an investigation that has already been completed. If a complaint against a faculty member also involves allegations against a staff member or student, the Chair of the Faculty should consult with the relevant senior officer about how to respond to that portion of the complaint.

A request for investigation by the Officers of the Faculty must be made in writing to the Chair of the Faculty, normally within 10 business days after the complainant and respondent are notified of the name of the investigator. The request must put forth the reasons an investigation cannot be done impartially in the local department or academic unit or using the usual procedures of this section 9.7. The Chair of the Faculty will then convene the faculty officers and decide if an IIP is warranted. The faculty officers may also attempt to resolve the complaint informally, if appropriate. If the Officers of the Faculty determine that an IIP is not warranted, they will inform both the complainant and respondent in writing, with a copy to the Provost’s office. If the Officers determine that an IIP is warranted, they will select the members of the IIP, who may be themselves or other senior faculty members. The IIP review process will generally follow the steps for a Formal Review under section 9.7.3.1, but modified as follows:

  1. The Officers of the Faculty prepare a charge to the IIP.
  2. The IIP will investigate the complaint.
    • In most cases, the members of the IIP have not played a significant role in any prior attempts at informal resolution.
    • The IIP may be assisted by staff member(s) with experience in conducting investigations.
      • In cases of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking, the IIP will be assisted by an investigator who has received annual training on those issues and on how to conduct an investigation that protects the safety of victims and promotes accountability.
  3. The Chair of the Faculty ensures that both the complainant and the respondent are notified in writing of the complaint and of the identity of the IIP and staff investigator (if any).
    • In addition, the Chair of the Faculty notifies the Provost’s office of the review.
  4. The IIP conducts a review to determine whether MIT’s policy on harassment or discrimination was violated, writes a report summarizing the review and determining whether there are violations of policy, and sends the report to the Officers of the Faculty (if different from the members of the IIP).
    • The Officers of the Faculty either accept the report or seek further facts from the IIP.
    • Once the report is accepted, the Officers of the Faculty send the report to the respondent’s manager (usually a department head or dean), to the complainant and respondent, and to the Provost’s office.
  5. The manager determines what, if any, action to take and notifies the respondent and to the complainant in writing whether action will be taken.
    • See section 9.7.5.3 on confidentiality.
    • A copy of the manager’s determination is sent to the Provost’s office.

The Officers of the Faculty may modify these procedures, as they deem appropriate in a particular case, and will notify the complainant and respondent of the modifications. While there is no set timetable, the investigation process will proceed as expeditiously as possible.

Any appeal from the conclusions of an Independent Investigation Panel follows the provisions of Section 9.7.3.2.

9.7.5 Provisions Common to Complaints by or against Employees

The following policies apply to employee complaints, whether under formal or informal review, under Section 9.7. They do not apply to reviews of tenure referred to in Section 9.7.1.2 or to the research misconduct policy under Section 10.1.

9.7.5.1  Remedial and Protective Measures

The Institute will offer reasonable and appropriate measures to protect a complainant and facilitate continued employment both during the informal complainant resolution and the formal review processes and, as needed, as part of the resolution of a complaint. These measures may be remedial or protective, such as a no-contact order, change in work schedule or location, or placement of the respondent on administrative leave during the complaint review process.

9.7.5.2 Retaliation

MIT’s policy against retaliation is stated at Section 9.5 above.  A finding of retaliation may lead to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment or otherwise terminating the individual’s relationship with the Institute. If any individual has concerns about retaliation, he or she should contact a human resources officer.

It is also the Institute's policy to recognize and respect the rights of any individual against whom a complaint has been brought.

9.7.5.3 False Accusations or Testimony

A false or unfounded complaint determined by the Institute to have been made in bad faith and dishonesty in the context of an inquiry or investigation are serious offenses. Such offenses may be investigated and may lead to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment or other affiliation with MIT.

9.7.5.4 Confidentiality

All participants in the informal and formal review process are expected to maintain confidentiality to protect the privacy of all involved, to the extent possible and as permitted by law. Participants should keep in mind the effect that allegations can have on reputations, even if the allegations are not sustained by the investigation. Thus, only those people with a need to know should be informed of a complaint.

At the end of a review, the manager will inform the complainant, respondent and human resources officer whether action will be taken; in consideration of the privacy of the respondent, the nature of the action is not disclosed to the complainant, except in cases concluding that there was a violation of MIT’s policy against Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, and Gender-Based Harassment. (Section 9.4.1) The report sent to the complainant and respondent may be edited to protect the confidentiality of witnesses or others.

9.7.5.5 Assistance During the Complaint Resolution Process

All parties involved in a dispute are encouraged to seek assistance from resources at the Institute such as their departmental human resources professional, their human resources officer, ombudspersons, or other departmental managers.

In pursuing any internal option, both parties in a dispute can be accompanied by a member of the MIT community to a meeting about the complaint. These individuals may not be family members, subordinates, or attorneys, though of course, parties may consult with an attorney or other adviser on their own before or after any meeting at MIT. However, in the case of a complaint of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking, the advisor may be an attorney who is not otherwise a witness or a party to the complaint. While the advisor may provide support and advice, the advisor may not speak on behalf of the party or otherwise participate in, or in any manner disrupt any proceeding.  MIT reserves the right to remove any individual whose actions are disruptive to the process.  

9.7.5.6 Pay Status for Time Spent in Dispute Resolution

In situations where complaint resolution activities occur during an employee’s normal working hours, a reasonable amount of paid release time may be granted. The human resources officer, investigator, or others involved in resolving complaints will work with the parties to schedule meetings as efficiently as possible.

9.7.5.7 Record Keeping

In the case of a Formal Review under Section 9.7.3, a copy of the complaint and the decision letter sent to the complainant become part of the complainant’s personnel file. A copy of the decision letter sent to the respondent becomes part of the respondent’s personnel file. Where the review concludes that a policy was violated, a copy of the decision letter and report are sent either to the Provost (for complaints involving respondents from academic or research departments, labs and centers) or to the Executive Vice President (for complaints involving respondents from administrative departments). A copy of any decision on appeal that concludes that a policy was violated will similarly be sent to the Provost or Executive Vice President’s Office. Access to these files may be granted by the Office of the Provost or Executive Vice President to individuals at the Institute with a need to know, such as incoming department heads.

9.7.5.8 Termination of Internal Review

A request for Formal Review made by an employee who subsequently voluntarily terminates employment is normally considered as withdrawn upon termination, and the review will cease. An employee who has terminated employment may request a review under Section 9.7 only if the request alleges that the termination itself violated a policy; such a request must be made within 30 business days of termination. For any other concerns raised by a former employee or for concerns raised by a former student against an employee, depending on the circumstances, MIT may choose to review the concern using this or a different process. Notwithstanding this general rule, in most cases, MIT will continue to investigate a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct made by a former employee if the respondent is still employed at MIT.

If an employee chooses to sue or file a complaint with an external agency, MIT will normally terminate any formal review at the time the external complaint is filed. However, the Institute may determine that it is appropriate to continue its investigation and to take action under this complaint resolution procedure or through another process.

9.7.5.9 Legal Information

These procedures serve also as the complaint and grievance procedure for employees (including student employees) as required by all relevant state and federal laws, specifically including concerns about race, sex, gender, disability, color, nationality, age, genetic information, sexual orientation, and veteran's status (including Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title IX of the Federal Education Amendments of 1972), and all other forms of proscribed discrimination. Questions on this subject may be addressed to the Ombuds Office, the Vice President for Human Resources as the Institute’s Equal Opportunity Officer, or the Title IX coordinator.

As noted, individuals may file complaints of violations of law with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), John F. Kennedy Building, 475 Government Center, Boston, MA 02203, (800) 669-4000; and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ("MCAD"), Boston Office: One Ashburton Place, Rm. 601, Boston, MA 02108, (617) 994-6000; the MCAD also has offices in Worcester, New Bedford and Springfield (see http://www.mass.gov/mcad/index.html for more information). For both the EEOC and the MCAD, the time period for filing a complaint is 300 days from the date of the last alleged discriminatory event.

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