Ask the panel

July 6, 2007

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

'When my line manager transferred to my department recently, I felt she was directing a few negative comments at me, which I tried to brush aside. But over the past few months I have noticed that I have not been invited to departmental meetings I normally attend, and most of my colleagues, with whom I previously got on well, no longer have much contact with me. One colleague who still talks to me told me my manager has made disparaging remarks about my work to other colleagues (ostensibly in confidence) and has alluded to the way I practise my Hindu faith as the reason she thinks my work is of poor quality. I am not sure what she means as she has never brought this to my attention. How should I deal with this?'

* A spokesperson for the Equality Challenge Unit says: "The conduct towards you may amount to discrimination and harassment under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 ('the Regulations'). The Regulations provide protection for staff and students at higher education institutes and make it unlawful for a person to be treated less favourably than others would be treated on the grounds of religion or belief (direct discrimination) or for a person to be subject to unwanted conduct that violates their dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment (harassment).

"Under the Regulations, HEIs, as employers, can be held vicariously liable for any unlawful act (including acts of discrimination and harassment) committed by staff in the course of their employment whether or not they know or approve of the act in question.

"It would be good if you were able to speak to your line manager about this situation, but given what you have said, it may be difficult to do this. If you don't feel that you can, you should, in the first instance, locate your institution's bullying and harassment policy.

"Also check to see if your institution has a religion or belief policy and refer to any relevant sections in it. Such policies will tell you what procedures your HEI has in relation to harassment and discrimination and inform you of how such issues can be taken forward.

"You should also consider speaking with the human resources department, the equality adviser (or equivalent) at your HEI, or your trade union representative. If you do so, explain your situation and ask for their views on how the matter should be progressed. They may be able to suggest informal methods for mutual resolution of the situation.

"If the matter cannot be dealt with informally then it may be that a formal grievance will have to be made, perhaps with the help of your trade union. Your representative will be able to explain fully what the grievance procedure entails. They will also be able to accompany you to any grievance hearing that takes place. Note that if you were to make a formal grievance, the Regulations give you the right not to be victimised for bringing a grievance, provided the complaint was made in good faith."

* A spokesperson for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association says: "I would suggest that you begin by meeting with your line manager to discuss your concerns informally, asking specifically for the reason why you have not been invited to departmental meetings and for feedback on your performance. The steps you take next will depend very much on the outcome of this meeting.

"If you feel that the outcome was unsatisfactory and you wish to pursue the matter formally, you could raise a grievance.

"You would need to obtain a copy of your institution's grievance policy and follow the procedure set out, seeking advice from your HR department if necessary."

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

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