Staff Handbook: Employee Relations Procedures and Guidelines

Employee Inquiry and Complaint Procedures

Supervisors and employees should mutually strive to develop and maintain good working relationships. The University encourages open and honest dialogue about work standards and performance. If such discussion does not prevent or solve a problem, additional actions may be taken, and more formal procedures are available. The University prohibits retaliation against any employee for use of, or participation in, such procedures.

If you have questions concerning policies and procedures affecting or likely to affect your work, there are resources available for clarification. Therefore, you are encouraged to seek answers to your work-related questions and concerns. There are three methods available for addressing employee relations problems:

  • General Inquiry
  • Informal Complaint Procedure
  • Formal Complaint Procedure

General Inquiry

If you believe that you have been inappropriately treated or you desire clarification of University policies and procedures and are unable or prefer not to talk to your departmental administrator about the questions, you are encouraged to contact the Office of Human Resources, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, or the Staff Council for assistance.

Informal Complaint Procedure

If a problem remains unresolved after using the general inquiry process, you may elect to initiate a request for redress through the informal complaint procedure. You should attempt to first discuss the problem with your immediate supervisor. The supervisor’s responsibility is to meet in a timely and professional manner with you to discuss the applicable University policies. Supervisors should consider reasonable solutions that would remedy the situation consistent with University policy.

If you believe that you are not able to direct the particular work-related concern to an immediate supervisor, you should discuss the matter with another appropriate departmental administrator. You may also contact the Office of Human Resources, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, or the Staff Council for additional assistance in resolving your complaint(s).

Formal Complaint Procedure

The term “formal complaint” refers to a written complaint concerning the interpretation or application of a specific term or provision of University or department policy, or concerning a disciplinary act alleging that the application of such procedure or criteria was clearly erroneous, arbitrary, or capricious. Formal complaints involving discretionary decisions will be processed solely with respect to whether or not prescribed procedures were followed and/or whether or not prescribed criteria, if any, were observed.

Formal procedures, when necessary, are available to staff members for the efficient handling and equitable hearing of complaints. The following complaint procedure covers only those regular University staff members in classified positions who have successfully completed the initial provisional period of employment. If a staff member is serving the initial provisional period or any extension of it, the University’s formal complaint procedure may not be invoked. The staff member is eligible, however, to use the informal complaint procedure unless and until the staff member is dismissed. The complaint procedure outlined below is the only authorized procedure to be invoked for resolving formal employee complaints.

Scope of the Formal Complaint Procedure

The formal complaint procedure is intended to resolve disputes concerning application of policies and procedures governing personnel practices at the University of Pittsburgh, including the University policy on docking of pay. Certain matters, such as restrictions or limitations placed upon the University by its insurance carriers or its retirement program providers or issues regarding performance appraisal, job classification, or compensation of staff members—other than improper docking claims—are not subject to the formal complaint procedure. The complainant may not be accompanied by an attorney at meetings in connection with a formal complaint. However, the complainant may be accompanied by any other individual of the complainant’s choosing at any level of the formal complaint procedure. If you have questions or concerns about the formal complaint procedure, you should contact the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, or the Staff Council.

Processing a Formal Complaint

You may file a formal complaint only after a general inquiry and/or an informal complaint fails to resolve the problem. The formal complaint procedure involves three steps:

  • Level I—Presentation of the formal complaint to the immediate supervisor
  • Level II—Appeal to the dean, director, department chair, or other appropriate second-level supervisor
  • Level III—Formal Complaint Review Committee

The formal complaint must be in writing on the Formal Statement of Complaint form and must be signed and dated by you. This form is available from the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources. The Formal Statement of Complaint must:

  • Explain the nature of the complaint and the specific circumstances at issue,
  • Identify the rights, procedures, or policies violated, and
  • State the specific and complete remedy sought by you.

Once the complaint is written and submitted, no aspect of it can be expanded or modified.

Level I—Immediate Supervisor

The complainant must submit the written formal complaint statement to the complainant’s immediate supervisor, send one copy to the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources, and keep a copy. This must be done within 10 business days after the complainant became aware or should reasonably have become aware of the circumstances causing the complaint.

The supervisor must schedule and hold a meeting with the complainant within 10 business days after receipt of the formal complaint. The supervisor must respond to the complaint in writing within 10 business days after this Level I meeting. The supervisor must send a copy of the Level I response to the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources.

In cases where the complainant believes that the involvement of the immediate supervisor would be inappropriate, the complainant may initiate the formal complaint at Level II. In the event that the Level II supervisor is involved in the complaint, the complainant may submit a written formal complaint at Level III within 10 business days following the event that caused the complaint. The complainant must specify why it is being submitted at Level II or Level III. A copy of the written formal complaint must be sent to the immediate supervisor and to the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources.

Level II—Dean, Director, Department Chair, or Other Appropriate Second-Level Supervisor

If the complainant is not satisfied with the Level I response, it may be appealed to Level II. The appeal to Level II must be filed within 10 business days after the receipt of the immediate supervisor’s written Level I response.

To effectuate an appeal to Level II, the complainant must submit:

  • A copy of the formal complaint,
  • A copy of the written Level I response, and
  • The written reason for disagreeing with the Level I response.

The complainant must submit these documents to the complainant’s dean, director, department chair, or other appropriate second-level supervisor. In addition, the complainant must submit a copy of the third item above to the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources.

The dean, director, department chair, or other appropriate second-level supervisor must schedule and meet with the complainant within 10 business days after receipt of the appeal. A written response to the appeal must be made within 10 business days following the Level II meeting. A copy of the Level II response must be given to the complainant, and a copy must be sent to the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources.

Level III—Formal Complaint Review Committee

If the complainant disagrees with the Level II response, the complainant may appeal to the Formal Complaint Review Committee (the “Review Committee”) by submitting to the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources (“Employee Relations”) a copy of the Level II response and a written reason explaining the disagreement with the Level II response. The complainant should retain copies of all relevant documents. The appeal to Level III must be filed within 10 business days from receipt of the Level II response.

The Review Committee shall be composed of: (1) an attorney from the University Office of General Counsel; (2) a representative from Employee Relations who has not been directly involved in advising the operating unit involved in the situation at hand, who will preside at and is responsible for conducting the Review Hearing; and (3) a representative from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Review Hearing

Within 20 business days of receipt of the appeal to Level III, the Review Committee shall hold the review hearing for presentation of the formal complaint by the complainant. The complainant may be accompanied by another individual of the complainant’s choice (other than a member of a University collective bargaining unit or the complainant’s immediate supervisor) to assist the complainant. Attendance by University staff members at a review hearing during normal working hours shall not result in any loss of time or pay.

Such other University faculty and staff members as are directly involved in the subject matter of the formal complaint, including the complainant’s immediate supervisor, shall also be invited to attend the review hearing. In addition, the grievance chair or an officer of the Staff Council will be permitted to attend the review hearing so long as appropriate supervisory approval has been granted.

If the complainant or supervisor(s) involved desire to present the testimony of additional witnesses, they shall provide a witness list, stating the name and purpose of the proposed testimony of each witness, to Employee Relations at least five business days prior to the review hearing. The Review Committee shall decide whether to call some or all of the witnesses from the list(s) so provided.

Level III Response

The Review Committee will provide a written Level III response to the complainant within 10 business days after the review hearing. If any one member of the Review Committee does not agree with the proposed Level III response, the member(s) may present their concerns to the appropriate senior administrator of the University, or his/her designee, for review and possible remand for reconsideration by the Review Committee. The appropriate senior administrator or designee shall either affirm the proposed response or remand the matter for reconsideration within 10 business days after receiving the proposed Level III response. If the matter is remanded for reconsideration, the Review Committee shall reconvene to reconsider the formal complaint, and a final Level III response shall be issued within 10 business days of the remand.

General Provisions

The time limits for each level of the complaint procedure may be extended by mutual consent of the parties. Any request for an extension of time must be in writing and agreed to by the parties. Should the University fail to render a decision within the specified time limits as established, the complainant may appeal to the next level. Should the complainant fail to appeal a decision at any level to the next level within the specified time limits as established, the complainant will forfeit the right to further appeal.

In the event of a group complaint, each person in the group must sign the formal complaint and the group must select one member of the group to act as spokesperson. The spokesperson will initiate the complaint on behalf of the group. Any resolution of the complaint is binding on all members of the group.

Each complaint is considered on its own merits. No previous complaint resolution is a precedent for future cases.

Disciplinary Guidelines

If an employee violates a University policy or rule or is not meeting performance requirements, has been insubordinate, or has engaged in conduct adversely affecting the workplace and/or other employees or students, a supervisor may take disciplinary action. When taking such action, a supervisor should consider the nature and seriousness of the infraction, all relevant facts and information, and any mitigating circumstances. In addition, it is recommended that a supervisor discuss the proposed corrective action with the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources to ensure appropriate applicability, documentation, and procedure. Generally, there are four levels of discipline that may be applied, at the discretion of a supervisor. Not all performance or conduct problems lend themselves to progressive discipline. There are times when immediate and serious disciplinary action, including suspension or dismissal, is warranted. Although the level of discipline should be commensurate with the nature and severity of the problem, any of the disciplinary actions below, other than dismissal, may be taken at the discretion of a supervisor.


An oral or written warning may be given in cases in which a problem occurs meriting corrective action. This is considered a departmental matter, with records remaining in the department. This action, therefore, is not subject to the Formal Complaint Procedure.

Written Reprimand

A written reprimand is a formal statement that becomes part of an employee’s permanent personnel file. Examples of problems that may result in a written reprimand include but are not limited to disruptions in the workplace, failure to follow proper work procedure or business practice, chronic tardiness or absenteeism, continued problems not remedied by warning, or where problems could lead to suspension or dismissal if repeated.


Suspension (with or without pay) may be imposed when an employee has failed to perform to acceptable standards following a warning or other departmental disciplinary action, or for other serious infractions as determined by departmental supervision. Suspension may also be imposed when there is a need to remove the employee from the workplace while an investigation is conducted or to protect the health, safety, or welfare of others. It is strongly recommended that supervisors consult with the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources prior to imposing a suspension.

Guidelines—Written Disciplinary Actions

Written disciplinary action is a formal statement that becomes part of an employee’s permanent personnel file. This action may be taken when a supervisor determines that an employee has not responded to a verbal warning or when the severity of a particular offense or incident warrants written disciplinary action. It is recommended that the statement describe the specific circumstances that prompted the disciplinary letter, the plan of action to correct and resolve the situation, the time period in which the employee must implement the necessary steps for corrective action, and the consequences for failure to resolve the problem. In some instances, remediation may not be an appropriate or desired course of action. When the disciplinary action is suspension or dismissal, it is recommended that the reasons for the suspension or dismissal be provided in a letter of suspension or termination to the employee, normally to be reviewed by the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources prior to notification of suspension or dismissal.


Dismissal may be imposed when the problem is sufficiently severe, after other courses of action have been attempted, or if there is no reasonable expectation of future improvement. However, it should be noted that dismissal may occur for reasons not related to disciplinary action as Pennsylvania is an employment-at-will state. Prior to dismissing a staff employee, a supervisor must consult with the Employee Relations Department of the Office of Human Resources.

The following examples illustrate situations that could result in immediate suspension or termination of employment; however, there are other circumstances not listed here that may result in immediate suspension and/or termination of employment.

  • Possessing or consuming intoxicants while on the job or violation of the University’s Drug and/or Alcohol Policies
  • Possessing unlawful drugs or being under the influence of intoxicants or unlawful drugs while at work
  • Theft, wrongful conversion, or unauthorized use of funds or property of the University or its faculty, staff, students, or vendors
  • Falsification of documents or records, including employment documents
  • Insubordination, including refusal to carry out work-related instructions or tasks
  • Disruptive or harassing conduct such as the use of or threat of violence, horseplay, practical jokes, physical abuse, or unlawful discrimination
  • Any conduct reasonably deemed by supervision to be detrimental to the University’s interests.
  • Destruction, alteration, abuse, or waste of the University’s or others’ property
  • Intentionally or repeatedly creating unsafe work incidents or practices
  • Possession of weapons or explosives, or violation of criminal laws on University premises
  • Violence or the threat of violence, including, without limitation, scuffling or throwing objects
  • Leaving work before the end of the designated work hours without permission
  • Threatening or intimidating students, supervisors, other staff, or faculty
  • Using abusive, demeaning, profane, or threatening language to anyone
  • Offering, accepting, or seeking personal favors, money, or other valuable consideration in exchange for a job, a better working assignment, or any advantage in working conditions, or in connection with an outside contractor or vendor
  • Off-duty misconduct that renders the staff member unavailable for work
  • Any grossly negligent or willful acts that result in personal injury, property damage, or loss to the University