Problem Resolution Process

The Problem Resolution Process (PRP) exists to provide a formal means for employees to resolve work-related concerns. This process is limited to actions by employees who have experienced an adverse employment decision in the form of a discharge or suspension, or have otherwise been disciplined in a manner which they believe to be inconsistent with the express terms and conditions of their employment or other University policies as stated in this manual.

Employees Eligible to Use the Protections of the Problem Resolution Process

Employees working in exempt and nonexempt administrative and support staff positions in grades 12 and below who have completed their probationary periods are eligible to use the formal PRP. Employees working in positions at grades 13 and above and those who are designated as serving at the pleasure of the President are not eligible to use the protections of this policy. The PRP does not apply to faculty and bargaining unit employees because they are subject to other procedures; such employees may, however, be involved as the supervisor or employee who is the subject of review.

Exclusions from Use of the Problem Resolution Process

The PRP is not a forum for review of management style. Professional assessments about grade classifications and judgments of supervisors, including day-to-day management of work assignments, performance evaluations, performance warnings of disciplinary action (e.g., verbal, written warnings), salary and the staffing or organization of a department or allocation of its resources are not subject to review under this process, unless it is alleged that the assessment or judgment was a violation of the law. The PRP is not available to bring a complaint against another non-supervisory coworker or employee. (See Staff Discrimination, Harassment and Sexual Harassment policy (20.072) for more information.)

The decision of the Vice President of Human Resources regarding the right of access by an employee to the formal problem resolution process, both as to the subject matter and employee eligibility as defined above, is final. There shall be no appeals.

Informal Resolution

Most work-related problems experienced by employees can be resolved quickly, informally, and fairly at the level at which they arise. Employees are encouraged to bring the matter to the attention of their immediate supervisors, who should work with the employee to expeditiously resolve the matter to the mutual satisfaction of those involved and in a manner consistent with University policies and practices.

If these efforts are not successful or if there is a justifiable reason the supervisor should not be involved in the process, the employee may pursue the matter with the department head. Unsuccessful efforts to resolve the matters or reasons the supervisor should not be involved must be submitted in writing to the department head. At any time during the informal process, the employee, supervisor, or department head may request that the Human Resources Department attempt to facilitate resolution of the matter. Such requests should be made to the Director of Employee Relations in writing, providing a summary of the problem, the efforts (if any) made to resolve the problem, and the ultimate result of those efforts. The Director of Employee Relations or a designee will hear both sides of the dispute and obtain such other information as is felt necessary to reach a resolution in a manner consistent with University policies and practices that is acceptable to both parties.

It is expected that most work-related problems will be resolved informally. Failure by an employee to undertake good faith efforts to utilize the informal procedures above may result in denial of access to the PRP by the Vice President of Human Resources or Director of ER. If, after exhausting the informal resolution process, a problem that falls within the jurisdiction of this policy is not resolved, the employee may request access to the formal PRP.

Formal Problem Resolution Process

The Formal Problem Resolution Process involves a two step process. Step 1 is a review by the senior officer (or Provost) of the employee's unit in which the senior officer makes a determination regarding the matter. If the employee is dissatisfied with the senior officer's decision, the employee may request a review before a Problem Review Committee by notifying the Vice President of Human Resources in writing with copies to the employee's department head and senior officer. Step 1 of the formal process should resolve the vast majority of the remainder of those issues which were not successfully resolved informally. Step 2 is appropriate only for complex or difficult issues.

During the formal PRP, either in Step 1 or Step 2, the senior officer or the Problem Review Committee may terminate the PRP upon a written finding that the subject matter or the procedures utilized previously are not covered by this process. A PRP termination under such circumstances is a final decision, for which there is no appeal process.

The Provost is the senior officer for all academic departments and other units which report to him or her, with the exception of the Division of Biology and Medicine. The senior officer for the Division of Biology and Medicine is the Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences. The President may designate a member of his or her staff to represent the office as senior officer if an issue is raised by an employee reporting directly to the President.

Procedures for Review

It is important that the process occurs while the underlying issues are recent. Therefore it is important that the time frames detailed below are followed to the fullest extent possible. Exceptions are not permitted unless approved in advance by the Vice President of Human Resources. In such cases, the parties will be notified of the modified time frames.

Step 1: Review by Senior Officer

The employee must notify the Vice President of Human Resources Director in writing of the request to initiate the Problem Resolution Process within 10 working days after the precipitating event or the breakdown of informal resolution procedures. In cases where an employee receives notification of an action on which the request for review is based, the 10 days begin on the date when the employee receives the notification.

  1. The request for review must include a detailed statement regarding the substance of the complaint, the facts upon which it is based, any pertinent documents or information, and the relief sought. It should also indicate if any informal problem resolution has taken place, and if so, who was involved and any results which were achieved.
  2. The Vice President of Human Resources Director upon determining that the complaint falls within the scope of this policy, forwards all materials submitted by the employee to the senior officer of the employee's unit. The senior officer may request additional written materials from the employee, the supervisor, department head or other involved personnel; conduct interviews; consult with Human Resources; or take other actions which will provide information relative to the disputed matter.
  3. The senior officer will notify the employee and department head in writing of the decision reached within 10 working days of receiving the employee's statement. On occasion a longer time may be necessary to perform an investigation because of the complexity of the matter, scheduling or the unavailability of necessary personnel (see above). Employees who believe that the Step 1 decision is inconsistent with University policies and practices must submit a written request to the Vie President of Human Resources Director, with copies to the department head, in order to move to Step 2 within 5 working days of receiving the senior officer's response. Step 2: The Problem Review Committee. The Problem Review Committee is comprised of 3 voting members and a nonvoting chair.

Step 2: The Problem Review Committee

The Problem Review Committee is comprised of 3 voting members and a nonvoting chair.

  1. The Director of Employee Relations selects the members of the Problem Review Committee by lottery from a list of 10 employees in nonexempt positions and 10 employees in exempt positions who have been nominated by the President.
  2. For employees in nonexempt positions, the Committee is comprised of two employees in nonexempt positions and one employee in an exempt position. For employees in exempt positions, the Committee is comprised of two employees in exempt positions and one employee in a nonexempt position. The selection of a committee member may be challenged by either party for good cause. The reason for the challenge must be stated in writing to the Director of Employee Relations. Any employee may decline to serve on the Committee for cause and should do so if there exists a prior involvement with the matter or the person. The reason for refusing to serve will be provided to the Director of Employee Relations in writing.
  3. The nonvoting Chair is selected by the Vice President for Human Resources.
  4. The Director of Employee Relations shall forward all information pertinent to the matter to the Chair of the Committee. The parties, through the Director of Employee Relations, shall also provide to the Committee a written statement of facts to which the parties agree. The statement may include such information as the date of the incident or meetings which occurred, the action taken in the matter, etc. The Committee will normally receive all information regarding the matter within 5 working days of receipt of the employee's request for review.
  5. The Problem Review Committee will review the information provided and conduct such other investigations or interviews which will assist it in its decision making.
  6. The Problem Review Committee will be guided in its decision by stated University policy and practice, particularly those included in this manual, and cannot add to, subtract from, or otherwise modify any University policy or practice.
  7. The Committee should document its decision and inform the President of its recommendation in writing within 5 working days of the completion of the review process. The President should consider the Committee's recommendation and affirm, negate, or modify the decision and inform the Chair of the Committee of the decision within 5 working days of receipt from the Committee. The President's decision is binding on all parties.
  8. The President will inform the Chair of the Committee of the decision. The Chair of the Committee then informs the employee of the President's decision in writing, with copies to the employee's supervisor, department head, senior officer, the Director of Employee Relations and Vice President for Human Resources.

Related Procedures

Access to the Problem Resolution Process

Eligible employees (as detailed above) may use the Problem Resolution Process without fear of reprisal.

Right to be Accompanied by a Brown Employee

An employee participating in a review by the Problem Resolution Committee may be accompanied by another Brown employee, who may provide support and assistance in the preparation of materials or presentation. The person accompanying the employee is not to act as an advocate on behalf of the employee. The review process is not to be regarded as adversarial or in the nature of a trial and the introduction of legalistic procedures is not permitted. Employees may not be accompanied by legal counsel.

Involvement of Other Employees

In unusual circumstances, when, in the opinion of the Vice President for Human Resources, the interests of other employees may be substantially and/or adversely impacted by any step in the process, the formal Problem Resolution Process may be modified to allow these employees appropriate involvement to assure their concerns are addressed.

Withdrawing a Request for Review

The employee may withdraw a complaint at any time during the formal review process by notifying the Director of Employee Relations in writing of an intent to do so.

Confidentiality of the Review and Results

To the extent practicable, discussions and information gathered about a matter reviewed under this process will remain confidential. The employee requesting the review will not be informed of any action which may be taken against another employee as a result of the review process unless necessary.

Standards of Review

A decision to terminate an employee because it is in the "best interests of the University" may be set aside only when it is determined that the decision was arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory.
Alleged incidents of discrimination shall be measured against a standard of whether the action complained of was intentionally and improperly motivated based upon the complainant's sex, sexual orientation, race, color, religion, age, ethnic or national origin, qualified handicap or disability, or status as a veteran. In matters of alleged discrimination, the EEO/AA Office may work in conjunction with the Human Resources Department in all aspects of a review and may assume the role normally assigned to the Director of Employee Relations in this process.

Conflict of Interest

If the complaint is being made against the senior officer, or if the senior officer has been involved in the original decision that precipitated the employee's complaint, the Vice President for Human Resources or another senior officer designated by the Vice President will perform the functions usually assigned to the senior officer of the unit.