852  Administrative, Professional, and Faculty Grievance or Complaint

Approved by President
Effective Date: June 5, 2017
Responsible Division: Business and Finance
Responsible Office:  Human Resource Services
Responsible Officer:  Assistant Vice President, Human Resource Services

I. Purpose

This policy outlines the solutions available to administrative/professional staff and faculty members of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU or University) to resolve bona fide complaints or grievances arising from the employment relationship or environment. To this end, formal grievance and complaint procedures have been established for the use and benefit of administrative/professional staff and faculty members in addressing certain workplace concerns. It is the policy of MTSU to make every effort to resolve a grievance or complaint at the lowest possible step in the procedure.

Employees should seek resolution of problems through this procedure without fear of coercion, discrimination, or retaliation.   

II. Scope

A.  Covered Employees

This grievance and complaint policy is available to all administrative/professional staff and faculty members (including full-time faculty on term or temporary contracts).  Probationary employees in these classifications are also included in this definition. Student workers, graduate assistants, adjunct faculty, and temporary workers are not included in the definition of employees for purposes of this policy.   

Support staff with grievances should refer to Policy 853 Classified Grievance and Complaint Policy.

B.  Concerns Excluded from the Grievance and Complaint Policy

Not all categories of employment concerns are covered by this policy. The following are examples of situations that are not covered:

1.  A termination procedure initiated against a tenured faculty member under Policy 204 Tenure, Procedures for Termination for Adequate Cause section.

2.  Appeals of negative recommendations for tenure or promotion. The procedures for these concerns are set forth in Policy 206 Tenure and Promotion Appeals Process.

3.  Non-renewal of probationary tenure-track faculty.

4.  Claims of unlawful discrimination or unlawful harassment based on protected class status. The procedures for these concerns are set forth in Policy 26 Discrimination and Harassment Based on Protected Categories Other Than Sex and Policy 27 Misconduct, Discrimination, and Harassment Based on Sex (Including Pregnancy, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity/Expression).

5.  Performance evaluations, rates of pay, or position terminations due to reduction in force do not fall under the definition of grievance or complaint.  Employees may follow the procedures outlined in Policy 810 Performance Evaluation Reviews to rebut a performance evaluation. 

III. General Provisions

A.  All employees are encouraged to discuss any problem with their supervisor or unit head prior to utilizing any grievance or complaint procedure in an effort to resolve the concern.

B.  No employee shall retaliate or discriminate against another employee because of the latter employee's filing of a grievance or complaint. In addition, no employee shall coerce another employee to interfere with the action of another employee in the latter employee's attempt to file a grievance or complaint.

C.  Supervisory personnel are responsible for ensuring that they inform and make available to all employees information concerning their right to file a grievance or complaint and their right to be protected from retaliation. Supervisory personnel are also responsible for ensuring that the employee is free from retaliation, coercion, and/or discrimination arising from the employee's filing or intent to file a grievance or complaint.

D.  Any matter that is reviewed through the grievance or complaint process may not be subsequently resubmitted for review through the other process.

E.  Standard grievance and complaint forms will be made available to administrative/professional staff and faculty members in Human Resource Services (HRS), but no grievance or complaint will be denied because a standard form was not used.

F.  The term "working days" refers to Monday through Friday. Days when MTSU is officially closed shall not be included as "working days" for purposes of this policy.

IV. Employment Concerns Subject to Review as a Grievance

An employee may only grieve those matters defined in Items A-C below. Employees have the option to choose instead to proceed under the complaint procedure of this policy.

If not otherwise excluded pursuant to Section II.B., a grievance may result from any action taken against the employee that the employee contends:

A.  Violates MTSU policy or involves an inconsistent application of the same policy.

B.  Violates state or federal law.

C.  Violates any constitutional right. The most likely areas of concern are the First, Fourth, or Fourteenth Amendment of the federal constitution when that action hampers free speech, freedom of religion, the right to association, provides for improper search and seizure, or denies constitutionally required notice or procedures.

V. Employment Concerns Subject to Review as a Complaint

A complaint is any employment concern that an employee wants to discuss with supervisory personnel in an effort to resolve the matter.

VI. Grievance Procedure

A.  General Matters

1.  So long as it does not interfere with the normal workflow of MTSU, employees shall be given reasonable opportunity to pursue grievances during their assigned work time. The parties to the grievance proceedings will be given access to all persons, places, and official records (consistent with the Tennessee Public Records statutes) for information necessary to the determination and processing of the grievance within specified time limits.

2.  The Assistant Vice President of HRS may grant reasonable extensions of the applicable time limit at each stage of the procedure upon a timely showing of good cause. The request for an extension must be in writing. The approval or denial of the request shall also be in writing.

3.  A grievance can be withdrawn in writing at any stage of the process.

4.  Once a final determination is made on a grievance, the employee may not later challenge the same employment concern in an attempt to gain a more favorable outcome.

5.  HRS shall be responsible for maintaining all materials produced during the grievance process and for facilitating the routing process.

B.  Time for Filing

A grievance must be initiated in the manner set forth below within fifteen (15) working days after the employee receives notice or becomes aware of the action that is the basis for the grievance. If the employee is not satisfied with the decision at any step, he/she must request in writing to HRS that the grievance be elevated to the next step within fifteen (15) working days after receiving the written decision of the lower level. If the employee does not carry the grievance forward within fifteen (15) working days, the grievance procedure shall be terminated, and the grievance disposed of in accordance with the last written decision. For repetitive or ongoing incidents or circumstances, the grievance must be filed within fifteen (15) working days of the last occurrence of such incident or circumstance.

C.  Initial Review by HRS

Within five (5) working days of receipt of a grievance, HRS, in consultation with the Office of the University Counsel, will conduct a facial review of the grievance to ensure that the grievance was timely filed and that the employment action stated therein is subject to this grievance procedure. In the event that HRS determines that, on its face, the grievance is untimely, or that this process is not available for the challenged employment action, HRS shall dismiss the grievance and shall inform the employee and his/her supervisor in writing.

Other than the review of the grievance described above, HRS shall not conduct any further review of the grievance or evaluate the factual merits of the grievance. In the event that there is a question as to the timeliness of the grievance or whether the challenged employment action is subject to a grievance under this procedure, HRS, in its discretion, may require the employee to provide additional details.

If an employee attempts to bring a grievance under this policy, and it is determined by HRS that this policy does not apply to that concern, the employee may continue to pursue his/her grievance under such other policy as may be applicable, provided that the grievance was timely filed pursuant to either the time limitations set forth above or those set forth in the applicable grievance policy.

D.  Grievant’s Responsibilities and Representation Rights

The employee is entitled to be accompanied by an advisor of his/her choice at each step of the grievance; however, the advisor may not act as an advocate on behalf of the employee during any of the grievance proceedings.

The employee may provide any information he/she believes is relevant to the issue that would assist the reviewer in reaching a decision. The reviewer may also talk to additional personnel who may have relevant information and may review documentation pertinent to the matter.

E.  Steps of Review

Step 1: Discussion with Immediate Supervisor

A grievance must be brought to the attention of the employee's immediate supervisor within fifteen (15) working days after the employee becomes aware of the problem. The employee and the supervisor shall discuss the grievance in an attempt to resolve the matter in a mutually satisfactory manner. The supervisor shall conduct any necessary or appropriate investigation and inform the employee in writing of a decision based upon full and fair consideration of all the facts within fifteen (15) working days of the initial discussion. The supervisor will assure that the decision is communicated to, and receipt acknowledged by, the employee and a copy forwarded to HRS.  If the employee’s immediate supervisor is the subject of the employee’s grievance, the employee may file their grievance at the Step 2 level and skip the Step 1 level. If the employee is not satisfied with the outcome, the employee may file a written request within fifteen (15) working days of receipt of the Step 1 decision to HRS, requesting that his/her grievance be elevated to Step 2. If no decision is communicated to the employee by his/her supervisor within fifteen (15) working days of the initial discussion, the grievance will automatically proceed to Step 2 of the grievance process.   

Step 2: Discussion with Next Higher-Level of Management

If the employee and the immediate supervisor are not able to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution to the grievance, and the employee requests and receives authorization from HRS to elevate the grievance to Step 2, the next higher level of management will schedule a face-to-face meeting with the employee within fifteen (15) working days to discuss the grievance. The procedure and time limits for the next level of management shall be the same as outlined in Step 1. If the employee fails to request that his/her grievance be moved to Step 2 within the specified timeframe, it shall be deemed that the employee has waived the right to further consideration and the grievance shall be deemed resolved at Step 1 and may not be raised again. 

If the employee is satisfied with the decision reached by the next-higher-level management, no additional action is required. If the employee is not satisfied, within fifteen (15) working days, the employee may again request HRS in writing to move his/her grievance to the next level of review, the Provost/Vice President, based on which division the employee is assigned to. If no decision is communicated to the employee within fifteen (15) working days of the discussion between the employee and the next -higher-level management, the grievance will automatically proceed to Step 3 of the grievance process.   

Step 3: Provost/Vice President Review

The Provost/Vice President will review the employee grievance and the prior decisions and conduct a face-to-face meeting with the employee. The decision regarding the grievance will be communicated to the employee within fifteen (15) business days of the discussion with the employee. The Provost/Vice President shall forward a copy of his/her written decision, as well as all documents or other evidence received or considered, to the employee and HRS.

Step 4: Grievance Committee Hearing

If the employee and Provost/Vice President are unable to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution, the employee may submit a request in writing to HRS within fifteen (15) working days of the Provost/Vice President’s decision, requesting that the grievance be elevated to Step 4, a Grievance Committee Hearing. The President will be notified by HRS of the request and the President or designee shall immediately appoint a grievance committee to review the grievance. The committee shall consist of five (5) employees and one (1) alternate, at least one (1) of whom is a peer of the employee. If the employee is a faculty member, at least three (3) of the committee members shall be tenured faculty holding professor or associate professor rank.

No committee member will be selected who has an interest in the outcome of the decision. Should it be discovered that a member has a particular interest in the outcome of the decision, that committee member will be replaced to avoid a biased decision. Every effort will be made to include ethnic minorities and women in the composition of the committee to reflect the diversity of the University community.

The five (5) committee members and alternate shall elect one (1) of themselves to serve as chairperson of the committee.

The position of the University will be presented at the hearing by the employee’s department head. The committee will provide the employee and the department head with fifteen (15) working days’ advance notice of the time and location of all proceedings before the grievance committee.

The committee shall conduct an independent and thorough investigation and shall fully and fairly examine all pertinent facts and circumstances. The committee should review the material presented and the decisions rendered in the prior stages of the grievance process. It shall receive evidence in the form of testimony and documentation from the employee and from the employee’s department head. The committee may call additional witnesses and obtain additional documentation as it deems necessary. The committee may allow all witnesses to be present at one time; or, in the alternative, may determine to hear each witness, including the employee, separately. The employee and the Department Head shall be allowed to be present for all proceedings. The employee, the Department Head, and the committee shall be permitted to ask questions of all witnesses. The burden of proof is on the employee to establish the validity of the grievance by a preponderance of the evidence.

Upon conclusion of the hearing, the committee shall, within fifteen (15) working days of the hearing, submit a written report of its recommendation and reasons supporting its recommendation, signed by all members of the committee, to the President. In the event that the members of the committee are unable to reach a unanimous decision, the committee may present additional reports and recommendations to the President and each report shall include the signatures of all committee members joining in its recommendation.

The President may then adopt any recommendation of the committee, in whole or in part, or may arrive at a different conclusion. The employee will be notified of the President’s decision within five (5) working days upon receipt of the committee’s recommendation, along with a copy of the committee’s recommendation. The President’s decision will be final and binding as to all parties concerned.   

VII. Complaint Procedures

Steps for Filing a Complaint:

A.  Step 1: Immediate Supervisor

A complaint must be brought to the attention of the employee’s immediate supervisor within fifteen (15) working days after the employee receives notice or becomes aware of the problem. The employee and supervisor shall discuss the complaint in an attempt to resolve the matter in a mutually satisfactory manner. The supervisor shall conduct any necessary or appropriate investigation and inform the employee in writing of a decision based upon full and fair consideration of all the facts within fifteen (15) working days of the initial discussion. A copy of the decision will also be forwarded to HRS. 

If the employee is not satisfied, the employee may file a written request within fifteen (15) working days of receipt of the Step1 decision to HRS requesting that complaint be elevated to Step 2. If no decision is communicated to the employee within fifteen (15) working days of the initial discussion, the complaint will automatically proceed to Step 2 of the complaint process. If the employee’s immediate supervisor is the subject of the complaint, the employee may skip Step 1 and move their complaint to Step 2.  

B.  Step 2: Next Higher Level of Management

If the employee and the immediate supervisor are not able to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution to the complaint, the employee may request in writing within fifteen (15) working days to HRS that his/her complaint be elevated to Step 2. The next higher level of management will schedule a face-to-face meeting with the employee to discuss his/her complaint within fifteen (15) working days. The procedure and time limits for the next level of supervisor shall be the same as outlined in Step 1. If the employee fails to request that his/her complaint be moved to Step 2 within the specified timeframe, it shall be deemed that the employee has waived the right to further consideration, and the complaint shall be deemed resolved at Step 1 and may not be raised again.

C.  Step 3: Provost/Vice President Review

If the employee and the next higher level of management are unable to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution to the complaint, the employee may request HRS in writing within fifteen (15) working days that his/her complaint be reviewed by the Provost/Vice President (dependent on which division the employee is assigned). If the employee fails to request that his/her complaint be moved to Step 3 within the specified timeframe, it shall be deemed that the employee has waived their right to further consideration and the complaint shall be deemed resolved at Step 2 and may not be raised again.

The Provost/Vice President will review the employee complaint and conduct a face-to-face interview with the employee. Their decision regarding the complaint will be communicated to the employee within fifteen (15) working days from the date of the discussion with the employee. The Provost/Vice President’s decision regarding the complaint shall be final and binding as to all parties concerned.  

VIII. Maintenance of Records

Copies of written grievances and complaints and accompanying responses, along with supporting documentation, shall be maintained in the office of HRS. Copies of grievances/complaints and accompanying responses should be maintained for a least three (3) years.

Forms: none.

Revisions: none.

References:  Policies 26 Discrimination and Harassment Based on Protected Categories Other Than Sex; 27 Misconduct, Discrimination, and Harassment Based on Sex (Including Pregnancy, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity/Expression); 204 Tenure; 206 Tenure and Promotion Appeals; 810 Performance Evaluation Reviews; 853 Classified Grievance and Complaint Policy.