Procedure for handling whistleblowing by students and employees
Whistleblowing means providing information on serious censurable conditions and violations of general ethical norms. Whistleblowing can be especially relevant if students or staff become aware of:
- unethical, illegal or punishable conditions in the context of the learning or working environment, pollution, corruption, misuse of public funds or abuse of authority.
- errors or omissions that may entail a risk to life or health.
- fellow students or employees who are bullied, harassed or discriminated against in the context of their work at UiO.
In addition, students may report censurable conditions related to themselves, while employees should discuss events relating to their own person with their manager or their manager’s superior.
The formal responsibility for processing of whistleblowing cases at UiO rests with:
- at the basic unit level: the Head of Institute or a manager at the corresponding level
- at the faculty level: the Dean
- in the central administration: the University Director or a person who has been specifically authorized
Delegation of responsibility for follow-up
As a principle, solutions to such cases should be sought at the lowest possible level of the organization, and the processing should follow the regular line structure. This means that the top responsible line manager, i.e. the Dean and the Head of Institute, respectively, can delegate the follow-up of specific cases to other managers, but they will remain formally responsible on behalf of UiO.
Addressee for reports from students and employees
- Whistleblowing reports from students (submitted on the red web-based form in the “Speak up” system) will be sent in encrypted format to UiO’s central post office where they are decrypted and forwarded to the relevant “Speak up” reception centre at the faculty concerned. The “Speak up” reception centres consist of the faculty’s learning environment contact, his/her deputy and the Vice Dean (studies and education) or the Dean, who will decide what unit should be responsible for processing based on the nature of the case. Those who receive the cases need not be those who will follow up/process the cases, but they may be.
- The Internal Auditing Unit (EIR) (Norwegian) is the addressee for whistleblowing reports submitted by employees, and will decrypt and forward the reports via ePhorte to the relevant line management.
- IR has a monitoring role with regard to the scope of whistleblowing reports and for ensuring that each case is followed up by the line management. IR will automatically receive copies of all matters reported by students on the red web-based form through the “Speak up” system.
Receipt of whistleblowing reports
- The web-based form is decrypted for reading. A case is established in ePhorte with the access code VS for students and VA for employees. Information can be exempted from public disclosure pursuant to Section 23, sub-section 1, of the Freedom of Information Act (lovdata.no), cf. Section 13, as well as Section 13 of the Public Administration Act (lovdata.no) (Norwegian) on the duty of confidentiality. On certain specific conditions, the entire document can be exempted pursuant to Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act (lovdata.no) (Norwegian). If the report describes a violation of applicable legislation, an exemption from public disclosure can be made pursuant to Section 24, subsection 2, of the Freedom of Information Act (lovdata.no) (Norwegian). All information on the matter is deleted from the inbox immediately.
- Further documentation and information should only be found in ePhorte.
- As soon as possible, and preferably within one week, the whistleblower shall be provided with feedback stating that the matter has been received. The feedback shall comprise information on the further processing of the case. See the template for letter to students (word) and the template for letter to employees (word).
- To be able to assess the matter, information must be collected with regard to the following issues: who is involved in the case, who has been informed about the case and who needs to be informed/ apprised of the case.
Oral or anonymous whistleblowing
- If the web-based form has not been used, the recipient must ensure that corresponding information is collected. This information is confirmed in writing by the whistleblower, unless he/she has submitted an anonymous report.
- Students who wish to submit an oral or anonymous report shall be referred directly to the red reception centre.
- The reporting person should be encouraged to identify him-/herself if this will have an impact on the case. This will obviously require UiO to have contact with the whistleblower.
- If the report implies accusations against employees or students at UiO, the whistleblower must be informed that an anonymous report provides very restricted opportunities for follow-up or possible sanctions against the accused. Moreover, information must be provided about the right of the accused to defend him-/herself and to be granted access to the content of the accusation and the identity of the whistleblower (the right to contradiction and access).
- The report is provided with a description and filed in ePhorte, and IR is stated as recipient of a copy of the matter.
Follow-up of whistleblowing
- The responsible manager decides where in the organization the case is to be processed, and informs the whistleblower of his/her decision.
- The whistleblower shall be provided with an opportunity to express his/her view to those who will process the case, preferably in a meeting from which minutes are kept. The minutes should contain such information as a description of the event and time of the event(s), names of persons and their affiliation with the faculty/unit.
- Moreover, an assessment must be made regarding the set of regulations that are considered to have been violated, if any.
- If a whistleblowing report contains accusations against members of staff or students at UiO, the responsible manager must first investigate whether the allegations contained in the report can be assumed to be correct. Erroneous allegations may result from a notification that a whistleblower has submitted in good faith, but having misconstrued the facts of the matter or other material circumstances.
- If the matter is pursued, the person referred to in the report shall be made aware of the notification and the information that has been received, and be provided with an opportunity to submit his/her view of the matter. If UiO collects information related to whistleblowing, the person concerned must be informed, cf. Section 20 of the Personal Data Act (lovdata.no) (Norwegian). This does not apply in cases in which for reasons of possible police investigation it is essential that the person concerned is not notified about the whistleblowing.
- Anonymous notifications shall be investigated as extensively as possible. If proven correct, the facts of the matter shall be described and appended to the case with IR as recipient of a copy of the report.
- Whistleblowing cases are processed confidentially. In this context, confidentiality implies that the identities of the whistleblower and the person(s) who are described in the notification are not made known more widely than is necessary for the further processing of the case.
- Section 13, subsection 1, no. 1 of the Public Administration Act (lovdata.no) (Norwegian) imposes a duty of confidentiality with regard to the personal data of individuals. The term “personal data” encompasses, inter alia, information on physical and mental health, personal character, emotional life and social or personal problems.
- The processing of the case shall be documented in writing, through a description of the content of the notification, a summary of investigations, minutes of meetings and other interviews, if any, as well as a report on findings and conclusions. Documentation is especially essential in cases that may involve individual liability. All documents pertaining to the case shall be entered in the records. The document category “Y” in ePhorte shall not be used.
- The persons concerned in the case shall be granted access to documents pursuant to Section 18, cf. Section 19, of the Public Administration Act (lovdata.no) (Norwegian). If the person described in the whistleblowing report requests access to the case documents, he/she will as a main rule be entitled to information on the whistleblower’s identity.
Sanctions against members of staff or students
- For members of staff: If the investigation of the matter reported by the whistleblower concludes that serious misconduct has been committed, any disciplinary action foreseen against the member of staff must be registered in a separate case file and followed up pursuant to Section 18 of the Civil Service Act and the rules of procedure in the Public Administration Act (lovdata.no) (Norwegian).
- For students: Follow-up and choice of sanctions are registered in the records on a continuous basis. If a student has behaved in a manner which seriously disrupts the work of fellow students or other activities at the institution, disciplinary action shall be undertaken pursuant to Section 4-8 of the Act relating to universities and university colleges (lovdata.no) (Norwegian). See guidelines for warnings, exclusions from specific parts of the institution and exclusions from attendance of courses and examinations (Norwegian). The case shall be reviewed by the Central Appeals Board (Norwegian).
Closure of whistleblowing cases
- When processing of the case has been completed, the whistleblower and, if applicable, the person who has been accused of misconduct must receive feedback, irrespective of the outcome of the investigation.
- A final report on the matter is added to the records and filed with a copy to IR.
- If the case upon receipt is clearly proven not to be a whistleblowing matter, grounds for this assessment must be provided and added to the case with a copy to IR. The person who has filed the report will also receive notification of the outcome of the case. The Department for Records Management and Archives closes the case in ePhorte.
- If the case is not a whistleblowing matter, but will be followed up, the case is closed. A new case is established and sent to the responsible manager for further follow-up.
- Pursuant to Section 28 of the Personal Data Act (lovdata.no) (Norwegian), personal data shall not be stored for any longer than is necessary for processing purposes. Contact the management of the Department of Records Management and Archives before deleting any documents pertaining to whistleblowing cases.
Protection against retaliation
- Students should not be made subject to negative sanctions as a result of reporting matters pertaining to the learning environment. According to its mandate, the Learning Environment Committee “has a special responsibility for ensuring that the ‘Speak up’ system follows an appropriate procedure with regard to the students, including making sure that the protection of whistleblowers is safeguarded in such a manner as to prevent retaliation”. Violations of this provision should be reported to IR, referring to the case number.
- Section 2-5 of the Working Environment Act (arbeidstilsynet.no) (pdf) states clearly that “retaliation against an employee who notifies pursuant to section 2-4 is prohibited”. An employer cannot respond to an appropriate whistleblowing report by terminating, suspending or dismissing an employee. Nor will exclusion, removal of or changes in the job tasks assigned or other repercussions that have the character of punishment be permissible.
- Through their activity reports, the faculties shall provide a de-personalized report on notifications received through the “Speak up” system and the efforts undertaken to safeguard and ensure a fully suitable learning environment. This complies with Section 4.3, fourth sub-section, of the Act relating to universities and university colleges (lovdata.no) (Norwegian), stating that the institution’s work on the learning environment shall be documented and be included as part of the institution’s internal systems for quality assurance, cf. Section 1-6 of the Act relating to universities and university colleges (lovdata.no) (Norwegian). The reports shall be reviewed by the Learning Environment Committee and included in the committee’s annual report to the Board, cf. Section 4.3, third subsection, of the Act relating to universities and university colleges (lovdata.no) (Norwegian).
- Compiled by: Department of Academic Affairs and Department of Personnel Support
- Authorized by: University Director Gunn-Elin Aa. Bjørneboe
- Date of authorization: 30.05.2013
- Version: 1
- Case and document no. in ePhorte: 2011/13529-18