Handling of conflicts
Guidelines for handling conflicts at UiO
Employers are responsible for providing a safe and secure working environment, see sections 2-1 and 4-1 of Working Environment Act (pdf) (arbeidstilsynet.no). It is within the employer's management prerogative to deal with conflicts. The purpose of the guidelines is to ensure that conflicts between employees at the University of Oslo are handled in an effective and predictable manner. There are several definitions of ‘conflict’, for example, when they relate to disagreements that create tension between two or more parties, or where there is antagonism between employees that leads to one or more employees behaving negatively towards other employees.
Not every disagreement between employees necessarily constitutes a conflict. At the University of Oslo, there is often disagreement between employees on academic and administrative issues and on the exercising of the employer's managerial prerogative. Such disagreements are part of a vibrant university environment and do not normally mean in isolation that there is a ‘conflict’ as per the definition in these guidelines.
The guidelines for handling conflicts at the University of Oslo are applicable to all units and all employees at the University; full-time, part-time and temporary employees.
The guidelines do not apply to conflicts between University employees and students. Should such conflicts arise, the student can report the conflict through the ”Speak up” system. A dedicated procedure for reporting censurable conditions exists for students and employees who want to report serious censurable conditions or behaviour.
The guidelines do not apply where, during the course of his/her work, a University employee ends up in a conflict with someone who is not employed at the University. As an employer, the employee's manager will nevertheless have a responsibility to assist in an appropriate manner in such conflicts.
An employee who becomes aware of a conflict he/she is not involved in, or other reprehensible behaviour, can choose to report this pursuant to the University’s procedures for reporting censurable condtions. Alternatively, the employee can take the matter up with his/her manager or safety representative, who will then decide whether the matter should be treated as a conflict between the parties involved, or whether the situation should be reported.
The University has various bodies and councils whose task is to resolve specific types of disputes. Each dispute must be dealt with by the relevant dispute resolution body, and is not covered by the guidelines for handling conflicts. If the dispute also leads to a conflict as defined in these guidelines, the conflict will be dealt with in line with the guidelines.
The main dispute resolution bodies of this type are listed below:
- Disputes relating to research ethics are dealt with by the Research Ethics Committee at the University of Oslo, and national research ethics committees where relevant.
- Disputes relating to external work are dealt with by the External Work Board.
- Disputes relating to intellectual property rights are dealt with by the IPR Committee.
3 Responsibility of employees to prevent conflicts
All employees must endeavour to act in a way that prevents conflicts.
Employees must participate in the organized safety and environment work at the University of Oslo and actively contribute by carrying out any measures implemented to create a good and safe working environment.
If an employee discovers harassment or discrimination at the University, or conditions that may endanger life and health, the employee has an obligation to notify the employer or safety representative.
4 Reporting conflicts
If an employee becomes involved in a conflict, the employee can choose whether he/she wants to try to resolve the matter by taking it up with the other party involved in the conflict, or whether he/she wants to involve the employer.
If the employee involves the employer, the situation will normally be taken up with the employee's immediate superior. Employees should alternatively take the matter up with the safety representative or the employee representative. This is the standard procedure if a conflict arises between an employee and his immediate superior.
Employees who are involved in a conflict also have the right to choose not to take any action in the matter. In order to secure a good, safe working environment, however, it is important that the employee lets the matter rest and does not share details of the conflict with colleagues or others in the workplace. The employee may, however, choose to take up the matter with his/her manager/safety representative/employee representative at a later date. Written notes specifying the date and a description of events will, in such situations, simplify the handling of conflicts, particularly if the episodes date back in time.
5 Handling reports of conflict
5.1 The safety representative’s handling of conflicts
If an employee notifies the safety representative of a conflict, the safety representative must report the situation to the employee’s immediate superior. If the conflict involves the employee’s immediate superior, the safety representative must report the matter to the next management level.
Having notified the employer, the safety representative will then leave the actual handling of the case to the employer. The employer must inform the safety representative of the measures planned as soon as possible. The safety representative must ensure that the employer follows up the situation within a reasonable period of time. If the matter is not dealt with within a reasonable timeframe, the safety representative can take the matter up with the next management level or contact the Director of Personnel at the University.
The employer must inform the safety representative when the case has been investigated and let them know what measures have been implemented, if any.
5.2 The employee representative’s handling of conflicts
If an employee notifies his/her employee representative of a conflict, the representative will decide, together with the employee – and within the relevant rules, how the matter should be handled. Unless compelling circumstances dictate otherwise, the matter should normally be taken up with the employee’s immediate superior.
Employee representatives may act as assessors in conflicts.
5.3 The manager’s handling of conflicts
If an employee notifies his/her immediate superior of a conflict, the manager must deal with the conflict as described in section 6 below. This also applies if the manager is notified through the safety services or an employee representative.
6 The manager’s responsibility for dealing with the conflict
An employee’s immediate superior has overall responsibility for dealing with conflicts. This applies to conflicts that the manager has been notified of and conflicts that the manager has discovered.
If the conflict involves an employee’s immediate superior, the matter will normally be handled at the next level of management. Disagreements between employees about academic and administrative matters that are within the employer's management prerogative in the daily work will not normally be passed to the next level of management. More serious conflicts or disputes where there is reason to believe that the employee’s immediate superior will not deal with the matter objectively must be passed to the next level of management.
6.1 The Occupational Health Service
The employer and employees may involve the Occupational Health Service if they consider it appropriate.
The employer may use the Occupational Health Service for advice and guidance, as well as practical conflict resolution. The Service cannot perform administrative functions in individual cases, but can receive a mandate from the employer or the Central Working Environment Committee (AMU) to collect information on measures to improve the working environment or investigations of the facts of a specific case.
The Occupational Health Service has a free and independent position in work-related issues and can assist both the employer and employees during conflicts. Employees who are involved in a conflict will be informed that they may discuss the matter with Occupational Health Service staff.
6.2 The Central Working Environment Committee AMU/LAMU
If a manager considers that the matter entails general or fundamental issues relating to the working environment, he/she can ask the Central Working Environment Committee (AMU/LAMU) to handle these aspects of the case. The AMU/LAMU’s remit is to work for a fully satisfactory working environment at the University, and as such will not normally handle individual conflicts.
6.3 The local personnel function at the faculty level or the University of Oslo’s central personnel department, Department of Personnel Support
Managers may request assistance from the local or central personnel function at the University of Oslo.
7 Procedure for handling conflicts
7.1 Conflicts must be dealt with expediently
If a manager becomes aware of a conflict, he/she must deal with it as quickly as possible. Taking immediate action will reduce the likelihood of a conflict escalating.
7.2 The manager must establish an overview of the situation
Managers must try to obtain an overview of the conflict as quickly as possible. This is normally done by talking with the parties involved in the conflict and any other employees that may be able to shed light on the matter. Before a manager talks to other employees, he/she must first consider whether it is appropriate to notify those who are directly involved in the conflict that such discussions will take place.
If the conflict involves allegations of reprehensible behaviour by one or more employees, the manager must take this up with the person concerned and give him/her the opportunity to provide an explanation.
7.3 The manager’s assessment of whether it is necessary to gather more information
In most conflicts, it is possible to adequately clarify the facts through such discussions as described in point 7.2.
In some cases, however, it may be necessary to undertake more extensive investigations of the facts. This is primarily applicable in the following cases:
- In cases that entail allegations of bullying and harassment, where it is difficult to clarify the facts through ordinary discussions with the parties involved or other employees.
- Other types of serious conflict where it is difficult to ascertain the facts through discussions with the parties involved.
If a manager considers initiating such an investigation, the person(s) who reported the conflict must always first be asked to give a written account of how they perceive the conflict. This should clearly state the complainant’s name, the name of the person accused of harassment/improper conduct, the course of events, the time and place of relevant events, as well as the names of any witnesses, etc.
After the manager has received such reports from the parties involved, he/she should confer with the Department of Personnel Support in order to decide whether further investigation is needed of the facts, and how this should be carried out.
7.4 Gathering additional information
Gathering such additional information as described in point 7.3 can be carried out in several ways. The procedure should be adapted to the scale and seriousness of the particular case. The manager, in consultation with the Department of Personnel Support, will decide how the investigation will be conducted.
This information-gathering process can, for example, be carried out as follows:
- Based on the reports of the parties involved, the manager prepares a brief mandate for the process. The mandate is presented to the parties involved for comment before the manager makes the final decision on its formulation. The mandate may entail solely recording the relevant facts, or may also provide an assessment of whether there have been any breaches of the Working Environment Act or other rules. The mandate should also explain briefly how the investigation will be conducted.
- The manager has overall responsibility for investigating the facts. The manager can do this in consultation with or assistance from, for example, the Department of Personnel Support, the Occupational Health Service or an external party with expertise in the relevant area. The parties involved must be given an opportunity to comment on their choice, before the manager makes the final decision.
- If interviews are conducted in connection with the investigation, minutes should be taken of such interviews, and these must be signed by the interviewee. Employees may bring an adviser or other support to such talks with the employer. The employees involved will also normally have the opportunity to comment on the content of the interviews.
- A report will normally be written on the basis of the investigation. The purpose of the report is to provide management with a basis for deciding whether any further action is needed. The parties to the case will be given a draft version of the report and have the opportunity to present their views before the report becomes final.
7.5 The manager’s decision regarding the conflict
When the manager has considered the case, he/she must conclude how the matter should be resolved. The employees involved must be informed of the conclusion. The conclusion may be communicated verbally or in writing, whichever the manager deems most appropriate. In cases of a certain scope, written feedback should be given in order to keep a record of how the case was handled.
If the manager concludes that measures need to be implemented to ensure a satisfactory working environment, these measures must be explained to the parties involved, and a schedule provided for when these are to be implemented.
If the manager's conclusion results in formal action being taken against one or more employees, such as a warning, reprimand or disciplinary measures, this must be done in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Service Act and the University of Oslo’s internal procedures. Before such a process can be initiated, the manager must contact the Department of Personnel Support and request their assistance with the formal process.