Ask the panel

November 24, 2006

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

For the past 20 years, I have worked as a lecturer in new universities. A year ago, I left a permanent post to take up a two-year lecturer post at an old university because I thought it would be a good research environment. I left in December 2005 after nine months, with no job to go to. I wrote to the vice-chancellor telling him of my experiences of bullying and intimidation by my line manager and, even worse perhaps, the lack of follow-up from the personnel department once it became involved. The vice-chancellor responded and offered an investigation into the affair. I agreed that my letter could be circulated. That was about six months ago. I have heard nothing since despite numerous requests. What should I do now?

* Our panellist from the University and College Union says: "We are sorry to hear that you felt forced to leave your job because of bullying and intimidation and a lack of action on behalf of your previous employers.

"In law, a constructive dismissal is one where the employee resigns because the employer's conduct left no alternative. There are strict requirements for a constructive dismissal claim to be successful, and it is important that anyone contemplating resigning and claiming constructive dismissal seek union advice before taking action.

"In most cases, there is a three-month limit to make such a claim to a tribunal, and the employee must have submitted a grievance to the employer making them aware of the problems. In some cases, the time limit may be extended to six months.

"Although it appears that you did make your grievance known to your employer, you are outside even the extended time limit to bring a claim to the employment tribunal. This is why it is particularly important to take advice at the earliest possible time.

"Even though your right to take legal action is limited, you may still be able to pursue your complaint with the institution. First, the university (being an old university) will have its own statute. It is likely that your membership of the university ceased with your employment, but it may not have done - check the statutes. If you are still covered by the statutes, they will lay down how a grievance should be heard - usually by the establishment of a grievance panel.

"If you are no longer covered by the statute, your ability to pursue your case individually, after nearly a year, is likely to be extremely limited.

"We would suggest that you speak to your union representative to discuss how they can help you to pursue your case. Even if the university is not willing to discuss your individual case, the union will be able to raise the issue of bullying in a collective way. It can negotiate policies and monitor how they are implemented. The information that you can provide about how you have been treated can assist the union with those negotiations and, hopefully, at the very least, improve the situation for others in future."

* Our panellist for the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association says: "Your situation is understandably very distressing, and it is important that you pursue all remaining avenues relating to the investigation.

"Unfortunately, however, you may have raised your query too late for any advice on how you might follow it up outside the institution.

If you felt that your employer had not followed their grievance procedure or the statutory grievance procedure correctly (for example, by not replying to your letter within 28 days), you could have complained to an employment tribunal.

"But most employment tribunal applications must be made within three months of the relevant incident; because of the delay, you are too late to do this."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to


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