No lack of confidential advisers, but finding the right person is difficult

No lack of confidential advisers, but finding the right person is difficult

Central complaints centre for staff


MAASTRICHT. Should a person who is being bullied by a colleague approach a confidential adviser or the ombudsperson? When is it time to submit a formal complaint? And, whom should you turn to if you suspect that a colleague is manipulating data? There is no lack of employees who you can approach with complaints or problems, but the road there can be difficult. That is why there will now be a central complaints centre, the Concern & Complaints Point.

“There is a lot, but it is a bit of a maze.” That is the conclusion drawn by the HR director Nieke Guillory, director of Legal Affairs Cenay Akin and director of the Diversity & Inclusivity Office Constance Sommerey after they had taken a close look at Maastricht University’s so-called care landscape (see box) last year.

The issue was also discussed in various councils the past months – certainly after the report from the Diversity and Inclusivity Office, which states that almost half of Maastricht students find themselves having to deal with sexual harassment or intimidation during their time as a student: where can people who experience undesirable behaviour, go? Both students and employees often don’t know, while reporting issues is so important, said president Rianne Letschert during the first Ask Me Anything meeting in January. “Otherwise, we can’t do anything either.”

One centre

Now, there will be a single care and complaints centre for employees, which Guillory hopes to launch at the end of June. “They can go there with all their questions, concerns and complaints. They will speak with a professional – so they don’t need to go through a digital list of questions – who can offer them a listening ear and who can point them in the right direction. That person also co-ordinates the team with various officials [confidential advisers and ombudspersons, ed.].”

The co-ordinator can also help people submit a formal complaint. With the confidential adviser, the initial route is often an informal one. They look into whether a meeting can take place, or whether mediation could be useful. In the case of a formal complaint, there is an official procedure. If the complaint is deemed legitimate, there may also be sanctions. “The Concern & Complaints Point will also give people an idea of what the procedure entails, what they can expect from it, they receive guidance if they want and they will be told what they themselves need to do.”

More hours

Those who deal with the complaints will also be given more hours. The ombudsperson will go from 0.5 to 1 FTE and soon there will be two confidential advisers for undesirable behaviour, one with 0.5 FTE and the other with 0.8. There will also be a co-ordinator for the social safety policy. “We could use more guidelines and policies in that area,” says Guillory. “At the moment, we have a concisely formulated policy vision, but together we should determine what social safety is exactly and what it means for our behaviour. This person, with the necessary academic background, will also contribute towards the development of new training courses in the UM Leadership Academy. For example, how to deal with cultural differences in your team, how to ensure that an atmosphere of openness is created in which people dare to discuss matters? So, we both want to prevent social unsafety and set up a clear and solid care landscape.”


The complaints desk is only for staff members. “For students, there is already a central point which has, as it were, an extra layer of mentors, student advisers, student deans and psychologists for students around it,” says Guillory. “They can help students or refer them to a confidential adviser for students. That is why we are starting with employees, we will evaluate annually (the first time in January 2023, ed.), and continue to build, should that be necessary.”

Who, what and where?

There are various confidential advisers at the UM. Firstly, there is one for students, Wendy Geijen, and one for employees, Marloes Rikhof. They deal with undesirable behaviour such as sexual harassment and intimidation, bullying, aggression, violence, or discrimination. This also includes abuse of authority or conflicts of interest. The confidential advisers offer a listening ear and may, if necessary, act as mediators. 

If the problem has to do with academic fraud, such as plagiarism or making up data, employees can go to the confidential adviser for academic integrity. PhD candidates – who are regarded as a vulnerable group because of their relationship of dependence with their supervisor – also have another possibility to approach the PhD confidential adviser. Every faculty has one.

If the problem concerns a conflict on the work floor, because of which working normally is no longer possible, an employee can go the ombudsperson, Claire Essers. She deals with complaints but – contrary to the confidential adviser – also the right to carry out an autonomous investigation and give independent advice to the Executive Board, which may then intervene.

Lastly, there is the formal complaint. This can be submitted to the Executive Board via complaints procedure regulation (employees) or via the Complaints Service Point (students).

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: Shutterstock

Tags: confidential adviser,ombudsperson,complaints,discrimination,sexual misconduct,sexual harrasment,undesirable behavior,concern&complaints

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