NOTE: A revised version of this policy is currently under development. Any questions relating to processes within this policy can be referred to the Complaints Resolution Unit.
(1) This policy explains how Western Sydney University deals with all types of complaints from staff, students and the public. It covers complaints about unfair and/or disrespectful actions or decisions, as well as complaints about bullying, discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, vilification and victimisation.
(2) Where they exist, all University policies and/or procedures relevant to the circumstances surrounding a complaint (including appeals procedures) must be pursued to conclusion before submitting a complaint under this policy.
(3) There are separate University policies and/or procedures for complaints about privacy, admission, grading, staff performance, promotion, industrial matters, staff and student misconduct and the making of protected disclosures. These can be accessed on the University's Policy DDS.
(4) Except where the complaint relates to an entity, this policy applies to all persons, whether or not they are a student or employee of the University, whenever they are:
(5) The policy also applies to any form of contact or communication relevant to University business or activities that is initiated in person, by telephone, mobile phone, fax, e-mail, through another person, agent or by any other means.
(6) Complaints about external entities, including those fully or partially owned by the University, must use the complaints procedure of the relevant entity. Similarly, matters that arise away from the University and/or have no association with the University would not normally be covered by this policy except where there is a clear impact on the University's ability to fulfil its aims in terms of this policy.
(7) Complaints can be lodged with external organisations at any time, subject to the procedures of that particular organisation. With the exception of reporting findings, the process at each organisation will be separate from the process under this policy and procedure. For more information regarding the various external organisations and the types of complaints they handle refer to Part B in the guidelines section of this document.
(8) Where a complaint is referred to an external organisation, the University will normally suspend any internal investigation until the external investigation is completed and all reports are submitted.
(9) For the purposes of this policy, the following definitions apply:
(10) The University considers effective and efficient complaint management essential to the provision of quality service and to establishing and maintaining a harmonious and productive environment. Legitimate complaints enable the University to identify inconsistencies between the standard of service promised and/or provided, and client expectations. This information can then be used to instigate preventative strategies to limit the possibility of recurrence and to initiate continuous improvement targeted toward established areas of need.
(11) The University's aim is to identify, investigate and resolve legitimate complaints using a fair, objective and confidential process that achieves resolution in a timely manner at the lowest possible level. In doing so, the University aims not only to reduce future recurrence of complaints, but also to take appropriate action to redress situations where a complaint is upheld.
(12) These aims underpin the University's Complaint Handling and Resolution Process which is explained in detail in Section 4 of this document. The process is further supported by various training modules, documentation, expert sources of advice/guidance and other resources.
(13) The Complaint Handling and Resolution Process is a mechanism through which relevant complaints (as explained in Section 1) can be lodged, investigated and resolved. The process is to be used to investigate matters where no other procedure is in place or where other processes, including appeals, have been exhausted.
(14) The University will endeavour to investigate all relevant complaints, including those lodged anonymously. Complaints must be lodged in accordance with the relevant provisions of the procedures contained in Section 4 of this document. While the University will accept anonymous complaints it does not guarantee the anonymity of complainants. This is partially because the identity of a complainant can often be deduced from the nature of the complaint and also because there are external avenues, such as Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA) requests, through which parties may gain access to the identity of complainant/s.
(15) The University may reach a finding and initiate appropriate remedial action in regard to a complaint even if unable to establish the identity of the perpetrator. For example, the University may find that there is sufficient evidence to uphold that an activity has taken place without identifying the person or persons responsible for the activity. Such a finding will not prevent the University revisiting the case in the event that further evidence comes to hand.
(16) Where a complaint lacks sufficient information, it may be impossible for the University to pursue the matter. Under such circumstances the Manager, Complaints Resolution (MCR) may terminate proceedings in accordance with the procedures set out in Section 4 of this document. This will not prevent the MCR reopening the case in the event that further evidence comes to hand. Under such circumstances, the case will be investigated in accordance with the normal procedures.
(17) Regardless of the outcome, all complaints lodged through the Formal Internal Avenue or Formal External Avenue (see Section 4 for detailed explanation of each) will be recorded in the University's Complaint Handling System, a database created for the recording, tracking and management of complaints. Further to this, normal record management practices continue to apply. With respect to students, their TRIM Student File number will be recorded in the Complaint Handling System for reference purposes and all correspondence will be recorded in an appropriate case file contained within the students TRIM file.
(18) Staff and students are expected to comply with the requirements of this policy and procedure and to cooperate with employees who are delegated responsibility for the management and resolution of complaints. The University reserves the right to address matters related to its affairs and to remove any individual or group from its premises for failure to comply with its policies or the reasonable directions of its employees.
(19) It is a breach of this policy to victimise anyone for their use of the University's complaint resolution process. The University will take necessary precautions in an endeavour to prevent victimisation from occurring, including educating supervisors and managers of their obligations to prevent victimisation. Appropriate remedial action will be taken where victimisation occurs.
(20) In the event that a party to a complaint is victimised, appropriate assistance should be sought immediately. This may mean:
(21) Any student or staff member who participates in victimisation may be considered to have committed misconduct or serious misconduct and may, where it is not appropriate to reach resolution by other means, find themselves subject to disciplinary proceedings.
(22) Enactment of disciplinary proceedings against any person/persons who breach University policy is not of itself evidence of victimisation. Victimisation, where it does occur in these circumstances, would relate to unfair or unreasonable disciplinary action or inconsistent application of disciplinary proceedings.
(23) Making a complaint under this policy and procedure is a serious matter with potentially serious consequences for those involved. Staff or students who use this policy and procedure to make frivolous or vexatious complaints (for example, to harass someone), or who lie or deliberately mislead in connection with a complaint, may find themselves subject to disciplinary proceedings.
(24) In addition to the possibility of internal disciplinary proceedings, those who misuse the University's Complaints Resolution Process should be aware that external remedies might also come in to play (e.g. civil liability/defamation claims).
(25) There are three complaint resolution avenues available:
(26) With the exception of serious matters, all three avenues are suitable for use in the handling and resolution of most complaints. Serious matters must be reported and handled using either the Formal Internal Avenue or the Formal External Avenue.
(27) With the exception of serious matters, the complainant has the right to choose which avenue to pursue. The University strongly recommends complainants focus on selecting the avenue that is most likely to succeed in resolving the issue at the lowest practical level. The complainant should seek advice from one of the University's designated Complaint/Grievance Officers prior to initiating action under any avenue if they:
(28) Where a Complaint/Grievance Officer becomes aware of a serious matter they must record the complaint in the Complaint Handling System and refer the complaint for Independent Internal Investigation in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Formal Internal Avenue.
(29) A detailed procedure for each avenue is provided below along with links to support documentation including checklists and flowcharts.
(30) The Direct Informal Avenue is the avenue via which the University would like to see most concerns resolved. In this avenue the concerns are raised directly with the person or persons responsible for the relevant procedure, action or behaviour that generated the concerns.
(31) With the exception of serious matters, the Direct Informal Avenue is suitable for use in resolving most concerns so long as all parties are comfortable using it. Accordingly, before using this avenue, the complainant must:
(32) Where agreement is reached the complainant should proceed accordingly and raise their concerns directly with the respondent/s. The parties then attempt to reach a satisfactory resolution to the concerns.
(33) If this avenue is successful and identified remedies have been enacted, no further action is required. Concerns resolved using this avenue are not recorded as complaints in the Complaint Handling System.
(34) Where this avenue is not suitable (e.g. serious matters, the necessary agreement can't be reached) or where it has been unsuccessful in resolving the concerns a formal complaint may be lodged. Where this occurs, the outcome of the initial attempt at resolving the matter may be recorded in the Complaint Handling System as part of the history of the complaint.
(35) A checklist is available to assist in navigating the Direct Informal Avenue process.
(36) In this avenue, a complaint is lodged with, and investigated by, the University. Its primary aim is to handle issues that are unable to be resolved using the Direct Informal Avenue. This would include serious matters, which must be reported using either this or the Formal External Avenue, and instances where there has been a failed attempt at resolution by way of the Direct Informal Avenue.
(37) Notwithstanding clause (36), complainants can choose this avenue from the outset where they feel it is the avenue most like to result in resolution. They are not required to use the Direct Informal Avenue first.
(38) The Formal Internal Avenue is two tiered; incorporating a Local Investigation and an Independent Internal Investigation. While both methods apply the same procedural approach to complaint handling and resolution, there are four distinct differences between the two:
(39) Complaints must be lodged with one of the University's designated Complaint/Grievance Officers:
(40) Complaints may be lodged by phone, in person or in writing (including email) and must provide the University with sufficient information (e.g. specific detail) as is reasonably necessary to enable the complaint to be investigated.
(41) The receiving Complaint/Grievance Officer will undertake a preliminary assessment to ascertain specific details and determine whether the matter should be handled as a complaint or further explored using another procedure (e.g. Review of Grade).
(42) Where the complainant is known and the Complaint/Grievance Officer determines it appropriate to pursue the matter through another process, they will:
(43) Where the complaint was lodged anonymously and the Complaint/Grievance Officer determines it appropriate to pursue the matter through another process, they will refer the complaint to an officer of the University, responsible for the relevant procedure, who will then be responsible for investigating the complaint and implementing any necessary corrective action.
(44) Where the Complaint/Grievance Officer believes the matter should be handled as a complaint they will, having due regard for clause (38a), refer the complaint and the complainant (where known) to an appropriate Case Manager for investigation. Where the complainant is known, the Complaint/Grievance Officer will provide them with a written copy of their complaint as recorded in the Complaint Handling System.
(45) All subsequent actions taken in relation to the complaint will be recorded in the Complaint Handling System by the relevant Case Manager as the action occurs or as soon as practicable thereafter.
(46) The University will only investigate complaints lodged after the six month deadline where:
(47) All complaints lodged outside the six month deadline are to be referred to the Manager, Complaints Resolution (MCR) in the first instance. The MCR will determine whether the complaint will be considered in accordance with clause (46). On reaching a determination, the MCR will:
(48) The receiving Case Manager is responsible for investigating the matter as quickly as possible and may seek whatever information, advice or assistance they deem necessary to enable them to reach a preliminary or final determination.
(49) The Case Manager may, at any point during the investigation where they deem it necessary:
(50) The Case Manager may determine that the complaint consists of a number of distinct and separate issues that require a different course of action. The complaint may be split accordingly and an appropriate course of action determined for each issue as per clause (49).
(51) Where the Case Manager decides to refer all or part of a complaint to another Case Manager for Investigation, as per clause (49)b or c, they will do so via the Complaints Resolution Unit (CRU). The CRU will facilitate referral to an appropriate Case Manager, keeping the complainant informed. The Complaint Handling System will be updated to reflect referral of the matter and access to the complaint will be restricted accordingly. The new Case Manager will then proceed with the investigation in accordance with these procedures.
(52) Where the Case Manager decides that there is insufficient information to enable investigation of the complaint and legitimate attempts to obtain that information have failed, they must refer the matter to the Manager, Complaints Resolution (MCR) requesting termination of the investigation. Their submission must clearly indicate the basis for termination and the actions they have undertaken to attempt to remedy the situation. The MCR will then review the available evidence and:
(53) Where the Case Manager decides to investigate the complaint themselves they must decide whether to conduct an investigation on 'process' or an investigation on 'merit' and advise the complainant/s, respondent/s and other relevant parties accordingly. The Case Manager must conduct an investigation on process where the complaint relates to another procedure. In all other instances they must conduct an investigation on merit.
(54) An investigation on process will only consider the procedural elements which led to the original action/decision, evaluating those elements to determine whether that action/decision was justified. The elements considered are procedural fairness, compliance and authority to act.
(55) It terms of procedural fairness the Case Manager will consider the issues of bias, fair hearing and evidence to determine whether the person responsible for taking the action/decision:
(56) It terms of compliance, the Case Manager will determine:
(57) In terms of authority to act, the Case Manager will determine whether the person taking the action/decision had the authority to do so.
(58) An investigation on merit will consider the issues of procedural fairness and authority to act as well as the probative value of the available evidence.
(59) Having conducted their investigation, the Case Manager may determine that:
(60) Where the Case Manager determines that relevant procedures were followed, they will advise the complainant/s, respondent/s and other relevant parties of their findings.
(61) In the case of a procedural flaw, the Case Manager will notify the complainant and refer the matter to the relevant area or officer of the University for determination in accordance with the appropriate procedure. Where the appropriate procedure was used in the first instance the matter only needs to be reconsidered from the point in the procedure at which the flaw occurred. In all other instances, procedures should be followed from start to finish.
(62) Where there is insufficient evidence to reach a determination the Case Manager will notify the complainant/s, respondent/s and other relevant parties of their findings.
(63) Where the Case Manager determines a complaint to be frivolous or lacking substance, the Case Manager will notify the relevant parties (including complainants and respondents) of their findings in writing and provide each with an opportunity to comment prior to finalising their findings and making formal recommendations. Recommendations may include referral for disciplinary action in accordance with clause (23).
(64) Where the Case Manager determines a complaint may be vexatious, the Case Manager will refer the matter to the officer in charge of the relevant area or process (e.g. relevant misconduct or disciplinary process) for consideration. The Case Manager will, as part of the referral process, notify relevant parties (including complainants and respondents) where the matter has been referred for further consideration.
(65) Once a determination has been made and the relevant parties notified, the Case Manager will record the outcome, including any recommendations, in the Complaint Handling System and initiate any further action as required.
(66) Where the investigation of a complaint has been terminated due to insufficient evidence, the complaint may be reopened as per clause (16). No appeal is required in this instance.
(67) An appeal against a determination arising from a Local Investigation under clause (59) may be made on one or more of the following grounds:
(68) Appeals regarding determinations arising from Local Investigation will normally be dealt with by the next most senior officer within the relevant area. For example, where the initial investigation was undertaken by the Head of Program, the appeal would be dealt with by the Associate Head of School. Any subsequent appeal must then be handled via an Independent Internal Investigation.
(69) In exceptional circumstances, where the appellant can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Manager, Complaints Resolution (MCR) that there is a pressing time constraint, the appellant may be granted approval to have their appeal escalated for consideration via an Independent Internal Investigation to expedite resolution.
(70) Once an appeal has been heard via an Independent Internal Investigation any subsequent appeal must be lodged and considered in accordance with the following procedures concerning 'Right of Appeal Regarding Determinations Arising from Independent Internal Investigation". The same applies where the initial investigation was conducted as an Independent Internal Investigation.
(71) An appeal against a determination arising from an Independent Internal Investigation made under clause (59) may only be made on the grounds that there is substantial new evidence now available relating to the original complaint that was not available to the Case Manager at the time the disputed determination was reached.
(72) If an appellant wishes to lodge an appeal in relation to procedural fairness, compliance or authority to act, they will need to refer the matter to the appropriate external organisation in accordance with the Formal External Avenue procedures provided below.
(73) Appeals must be lodged with the Complaints Resolution Unit (CRU) within 21 days of formal notification of a determination and must specify the basis for the appeal as per:
(74) Appeals will be investigated in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Investigation Procedures detailed in clauses (48) through (65). The Case Manager hearing the appeal must conduct the investigation on process only as explained in clauses (53) through (57).
(76) In this avenue, a complaint is lodged with and investigated by an external organisation. Complaints can be lodged with external organisations at any time, subject to the procedures of the particular organisation. Complainants are not required to use the Direct Informal Avenue or the Formal Internal Avenue first.
(77) Notwithstanding the above, where suitable and considered likely to achieve resolution, the University strongly recommends using the Direct Informal Avenue or the Formal Internal Avenue in the first instance.
(78) The complaint must be lodged with the appropriate external organisation, in accordance with that organisations procedures and deadlines. Deadlines may differ from one organisation to the next.
(79) There are a number of external organisations that deal with complaints. The details of some of the key organisations are provided in Section 5, Part B of this document. If a complainant does not know which external organisation to contact they may seek advice from:
(80) Complaint investigations undertaken by external organisations will be conducted in accordance with the procedures of the external organisation.
(81) Once a complaint has been lodged with an external organisation the University will normally suspend any internal investigation until such time as the external organisation has completed its investigation and submitted all reports related to its findings.
(82) Complainants should be aware that external organisations will normally notify the University when they receive a complaint. When the University becomes aware that a complaint has been lodged with an external organisation it will record the complaint in the Complaint Handling System.
(83) Refer to Section 5 for more information about external organisations, or to the Formal External Avenue Flowchart or Checklist for an overview of the process.
(84) There are a number of external organisations that can provide advice in relation to and/or investigate complaints. Some of the key organisations are the:
(85) There are a number of attachments provided with this document to assist and guide individuals through the process. These include a list of the University's designated Complaint/Grievance Officers (maintained by the Complaints Resolution Unit ), flowcharts that map out the process, checklists that can be used to step through each of the complaint resolution avenues and the like. These attachments can be accessed via the Associated Information page for this document.