Complaint Process FAQs

Complaint Process FAQs

This section provides answers to frequently asked questions about MIT’s complaint resolution process.

We also strongly advise that you read Section 9.7 of MIT’s Policies & Procedures, Complaint Resolution Policies and Procedures in order to understand more fully your rights and responsibilities as a complainant or as a respondent. If you have any questions about this policy, please contact the Human Resources Officer in Human Resources who is assigned to your Department, Lab, or Center. You can also visit MIT's Human Resources Office. For Lincoln Laboratory employees, check with your Human Resources Office.

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Definitions

  • The "Request for Formal Review" is the official term for the complaint.
  • The person making the complaint is the complainant.
  • The person who is the subject of the complaint is the respondent
  • The person who receives your complaint and determines whether to conduct a formal investigation is a Human Resources Officer (HRO), in MIT’s Human Resources Office, or a human resources professional at Lincoln Laboratory.
  • The person who conducts the actual investigation is the investigator. The investigator may or may not be the HRO who evaluated the complaint for a determination of whether a formal review should be conducted. 

Frequently Asked Questions - General

1. What is informal complaint resolution and why does MIT encourage it?

As explained under Informal Options, informal complaint resolution is often quicker than the formal complaint process, may be less disruptive to the working or education environment, can provide more confidentiality, and generally helps preserve working or educational relationships. That said, there are circumstances where informal resolution is clearly not appropriate, such as an allegation of sexual assault. We encourage complainants to consider informal resolution to see whether, in the circumstances, it might be effective.

2. If informal resolution fails, can the formal review process still be used?

Yes. If an informal approach is tried but does not work, the complainant can still file a Request for a Formal Review. If informal resolution was attempted after you filed a Request for a Formal Review but was not successful, that formal review can proceed without your needing to file another Request. 

3. How is a formal review started?

In most cases, the process begins when a complainant files an electronic Request for a Formal Review.

An HRO will review the Request for a Formal Review to determine if an informal resolution process was already attempted, and, if not, whether an informal process might be successful or appropriate. The HRO will also determine whether there is sufficient evidence in the Request that an MIT Policy has been violated or misapplied. The HRO will contact the complainant within 15 business days of the receipt of the Request to inform them if HR will conduct a formal investigation into the complaint.

In unusual cases, MIT may begin a formal review even though no Request for a Formal Review has been submitted.

4. If there is an investigation, what happens?

In most cases, the investigator will interview the complainant in person, will interview the respondent in person, and will interview witnesses who the investigator thinks may have helpful information. Either the complainant or the respondent  can suggest witnesses, and the investigator may talk to them, or may talk to other people. The investigator writes a report concluding whether or not an MIT policy was violated. Both the complainant and the respondent, as well as the respondent’s manager or supervisor, are given a copy of that report.

5. Who serves as the investigator?

In most instances, someone in the central Human Resources Office serves as the investigator.  This may be the HRO who usually works with the particular DLC, or it may be a different HRO. In some instances, based on the nature of the investigation, another professional in HR may serve as the investigator. In some instances, two people may jointly serve as the investigator. 

6. Are there some kinds of complaints that are not made through this process? 

Yes. As noted above, the formal complaint resolution process is used for alleged violations of MIT employment policies. It is not meant for academic disputes, such as an allegation of discrimination relating to an academic grade; grade disputes are addressed under the procedures set forth by the Registrar’s Office for changing a grade. If there are more specific procedures for certain issues, like research misconduct (Policies and Procedures​ Sec 10.1), those more specific procedures are followed. If you think that both an employment policy and another policy, such as a research policy or an intellectual property policy, were violated, please talk to your HRO. In such cases where there are multiple issues, MIT may follow a different process for reviewing the complaint. 

Also, the formal complaint process cannot be used to address a general complaint of unfair treatment but must name the specific employment policy that the complainant believes was violated.

7. What does MIT expect of the participants in an investigation?

As  MIT employees, all participants in an investigation – complainants, respondents, and witnesses -- are required to make themselves  available to meet with the investigator, to provide relevant documentation when asked, and to answer all questions fully and honestly.

Section 9.7.5.3 of the Complaint Resolution Policy makes clear that MIT expects the complainant, respondent, and all witnesses to act in good faith and to be honest. Although each participant may have a difference of opinion, a difference of perception, or reasonable differences in their recollection of past events, all participants are expected to be truthful during the investigation. Any participant could be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment, if the Institute determines that they were intentionally dishonest when making a complaint or when participating in an investigation. 

8. What level of confidentiality is there in a formal investigation?

If the HRO determines that a formal investigation is necessary, then the investigator will need to speak with the complainant, the respondent(s), and any witnesses who the investigator believes may have relevant information. The investigator will request individuals to maintain confidentiality about the investigation in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation.

The investigator will inform the respondent of the allegations in the complaint. The complaint itself is generally not given to the respondent, though MIT may do so in particular cases. At the conclusion of the investigation, both the complainant and the respondent are given a copy of the investigative report, which will include a determination as to whether an MIT policy was violated. The complainant is generally not told what action (if any) is taken against a respondent.

All participants in the informal and formal review process are expected to maintain confidentiality to protect the privacy of all involved, to the extent possible and as permitted by law. Participants should keep in mind the effect that allegations can have on reputations, even if the allegations are not sustained by the investigation. Thus, only those people with a need to know should be informed of a complaint. In general, with formal complaints it is less likely that complete confidentiality can be maintained.

More information on confidentiality can be found in Policies & Procedures Sec. 9.7.5.4, Confidentiality.

9. May I bring someone with me when I meet with the investigator?

Yes. Both the complainant and the respondent can bring someone from the MIT community to a meeting about the complaint. Policies & Procedures Sec. 9.7.5.5, Assistance During the Complaint Resolution Process. This section provides further detail on who can accompany you and what role they can play during the meeting.

10. How long will it take to complete the formal investigation?

Generally, the investigator will issue the report within 75 business days of the receipt of the complaint. However, in complaints alleging sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking, the investigator will usually issue the report within 60 days.

11. What happens at the conclusion of the investigation?

The investigator will write a report summarizing the relevant factual findings and conclusions and send the report to the respondent’s manager. Both the complainant and the respondent will also receive a copy of the report. If a violation of an MIT policy is found, the respondent’s manager will determine what, if any, action will be taken in response to the report. Where action is taken, the complainant is not told what that action is, except when that action involves the complainant (e.g., a no contact order).

12. Are there other people I can talk to?

Most people find the experience of bringing a complaint or responding to a complaint to be upsetting. The investigatory process may feel adversarial, even though the investigators are neutral and objective. We encourage participants to review the list of MIT Resources, most of which can be used by both complainants and respondents, to see if any of those resources might provide them with helpful support.

 Additional Questions Frequently Asked by Complainants

In addition to the General FAQs above, some specific questions often asked by complainants include the following:

1. How will I know if HR received my Request for an Formal Review?

You will receive an automatic reply showing that your Request was received. Within seven business days of the receipt of your Request, a Human Resources Officer (HRO) will contact you to confirm receipt of your Request. If the complaint concerns a Lincoln Lab employee, the Lincoln HR department will confirm receipt of the complaint.

2. What if I change my mind after I submit this complaint?

In some instances, after a Request for a Formal Review has been filed, the complainant’s concerns are successfully addressed through an informal dispute resolution process.

In other instances, the complainant decides that they no longer want to pursue a complaint. In most instances, that will end the formal investigation. However, if the complainant opts not to continue, MIT may decide to proceed with an investigation if it determines that the alleged conduct might impede the ability of the Institute to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment or might violate the law.

3. I am concerned about retaliation; how will I be protected?

Retaliation is prohibited against any complainant who in good faith raises a complaint of a violation of an MIT policy. MIT also prohibits retaliation against anyone else who assists in making such a complaint, or who cooperates in an investigation. Retaliation is defined as any adverse action, harassment, threats or other conduct that would discourage a reasonable person from making a complaint or otherwise participating in a complaint resolution process.

Retaliation may occur even where an investigation concludes that there is no policy violation. A complaint of retaliation is considered a separate violation from the violation(s) alleged in the underlying complaint and will be addressed independently through MIT’s complaint resolution process. See Policies & Procedures Sec. 9.5, Retaliation. 

If you think you have been, or might be, retaliated against because you filed a complaint, please consult with your HRO.

4. How can I work effectively with the respondent during the investigation process?

It can be difficult to work collaboratively with someone who you believe has violated an MIT policy. In most cases, MIT expects both the complainant and the respondent to be professional, to focus on their work, to ensure that their regular tasks are completed, and to minimize the disruption caused by the investigation as much as possible.

Where your work requires you to meet directly with the respondent, in some cases, it may be possible for a third party to attend some meetings. If your work requires you to work directly with the respondent, please discuss the situation with the investigator or with your HRO.

5. What if I cannot reach a Human Resources Officer?

If you having any difficulty contacting the HRO assigned to your Department, Lab or Center, contact John Dunlap, the Director of Employee/Labor Relations and Compliance, at 617-258-8718.

 Additional Questions Frequently Asked by Respondents

In addition to the General FAQs above, some specific questions often asked by respondents include the following:

1. Why is MIT investigating this complaint?

MIT has a responsibility to review complaints raised by members of the MIT community. Some respondents interpret MIT’s decision to investigate a particular complaint as an indication that MIT has already decided that the respondent has violated a policy. This assumption is not accurate. MIT reviews complaints in order to comply with its own policies and, in some cases, with the law. The investigators are neutral and objective; they draw their conclusions based on what they learn during the investigation – from documents, interviews, corroborating statements, etc. – whether that information supports the complainant or whether that supports the respondent.

2. What about claims of retaliation?

Retaliation is prohibited against a complainant who in good faith raises a complaint of a violation of an MIT policy. MIT also prohibits retaliation against anyone else who assists in making such a complaint, or who cooperates in the investigation. Retaliation is defined as any adverse action, harassment, threats or other conduct that would discourage a reasonable person from making a complaint or otherwise participating in a complaint resolution process.

Retaliation may occur even where an investigation concludes that there is no policy violation. A complaint of retaliation is considered a separate violation from the violation(s) alleged in the underlying complaint and will be addressed independently through MIT’s complaint resolution process. See Policies & Procedures Sec. 9.5, Retaliation.

If you are a supervisor of the complainant, or otherwise have a role of direct or indirect authority or influence over the complainant, please consult with your Human Resources Officer.

3. How can I work effectively with the complainant during the investigation process?

It can be difficult to work collaboratively with someone who has accused you of violating a policy, particularly where you are certain that you did not violate any policy. In most cases, MIT expects both the complainant and the respondent to be professional, to focus on their work, to ensure that their regular tasks are completed, and to minimize the disruption caused by the investigation as much as possible.

Where your work requires you to meet directly with the complainant, in some cases, it may be possible for a third party to attend some meetings. If your work requires you to work directly with the complainant, please discuss the situation with the investigator or with your HRO.

4. What if I cannot reach a Human Resources Officer?

If you having any difficulty contacting the HRO assigned to your Department, Lab or Center, contact John Dunlap, the Director of Employee/Labor Relations and Compliance, at 617-258-8718.