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Union reps critical of Lund’s new staff disciplinary process

Employees at Lund University are no longer allowed to speak at staff disciplinary board hearings on dismissal or redundancy, nor may they respond in writing to accusations. Unions at other higher education institutions are now reacting. A compromise has been agreed in Borås.

Emmeli Nilsson
Universitetsläraren asked Saco-S representatives at Sweden’s largest higher education institutions how their staff disciplinary board process works and what they think of the change made in Lund. Photo: Nina Ransmyr/Lund University

As Universitetsläraren has previously reported, employees at Lund University who are brought before the staff disciplinary board, Pan, are no longer allowed to defend themselves orally before the board makes a decision on dismissal or redundancy on personal grounds. Additionally, employees are no longer allowed to submit a written statement in response to the allegations to be discussed at such disciplinary board hearings.

Adam Brenthel, chair of the local Saco-S association at Lund University, is critical of the change. The HR Director, Marie Härstedt, has previously told the University teacher that the university now focuses on deliberations before the disciplinary board meeting.

“Very unfortunate interpretation”
Universitetsläraren has asked Saco-S representatives at the country’s largest higher education institutions how the staff disciplinary process works for them and what they think of the new procedures in Lund. The majority of the 15 representatives who responded say that the employee may be present and speak when the disciplinary board is to make its decision.

Håkan Lindkvist, chair of the Saco-S association at Umeå University, refers to the university’s staff disciplinary procedure, which states that the university must inform the employee about their right to request attendance at the disciplinary board’s meeting and to speak before the board.

Håkan Lindkvist.

“I think that Lund’s interpretation is very unfortunate. Why don’t they want the employee to be allowed to speak at the meeting?” writes Lindkvist in an email.

According to Ummis Jonsson, chair of Saco-S and SULF at Mid Sweden University, the employee concerned participates in the disciplinary board meeting unless they have actively chosen no to do so. She also refers to the university’s Head of Legal Affairs, Arne Wahlström, who believes that the employee’s presence at the meeting is ”extremely important in order to safeguard due legal process”.

Ummis Jonsson.

Afraid the change will spread
Linköping University also gives employees the right to both respond in writing before the meeting and to speak at the meeting.

“I agree with Adam that Lund University has chosen to interpret its policy in an odd way and that there may be a danger that this will spread to other universities,” writes Krzysztof Marciniak, chair of the Saco-S local association and staff representative on the staff disciplinary board at Linköping University, by email.

Krzysztof Marciniak
Krzysztof Marciniak.

Kjell Johansson is the chair of the SULF association at Luleå University of Technology. He writes that “the change being made in Lund seems strange. It is even stranger that employees who are the subject of staff disciplinary board hearings are not allowed to defend themselves in writing against accusations.”

Difficult to judge
None of the Saco-S representatives who responded think that any change to the process is in the pipeline at their own higher education institution. However, a couple have so few staff disciplinary cases that it is difficult for them to judge.

Kjell Johansson.

At Stockholm University, the employee is called and heard orally when the staff disciplinary board deliberates on a matter. However, Ingrid Lander, chair of the Saco-S local association at the university, says that cases involving dismissal or redundancy on personal grounds are extremely rare. “Since I became chair of our Saco-S association in 2017, we have not had any such cases at all. Staff disciplinary board cases are an anomaly here. The university tries to deal with matters so that they don’t reach the board.”

Ingrid Lander.

Compromise in Borås
At the University of Borås, the staff disciplinary procedure was changed in autumn 2022. It states that the employee concerned and others involved in the matter are to be called to the staff disciplinary board to answer the board’s questions if necessary. However, the right to attend and speak is only granted if the board decides that there is a need to ask questions. The employee and/or others participate by telephone.

“In the past, it was always the case that the person was called to the board’s meeting and could explain their view on the matter face to face,” says Martin Behre, chair of the Saco-S association at the university. “The Swedish Association of Government Employers has proposed that employees should not have the right to speak at staff disciplinary board meetings. The employer’s goal was to make the process an entirely written procedure. The arrangement we have now is a compromise reached through negotiation.”

Places demands on the union
So far, no cases have reached the staff disciplinary board under the new procedure, but Behre says that the union representatives on the board will use the opportunity to put questions to the employee concerned. “Given the new regulations, we need to be willing to ask questions in order for the employees to express themselves. It feels natural for me as a staff representative. But it places great demands on us as union representatives to really study and understand each case and do what is required.”

In the new procedure, says Behre, the employer wrongly assumes that the employee trusts the employer to present the case in a fair way. “When a case gets as far as the staff disciplinary board, there is a fundamental mistrust between the parties. Why should an employee trust the party that wants them to receive a warning or be fired?”

He still thinks the compromise is reasonable, because it means that the employees concerned are at least allowed to defend themselves. “But I find it difficult to accept the change that has been made in Lund.”

Written statements during a test period
Adam Brenthel, chair of the Saco-S association at Lund University, notes that the procedures differ greatly between different higher education institutions, but that the local process has also varied over time, even within the current processing procedure. “It was not regulated sufficiently from the start. It seems to be implemented in completely different ways – and people’s whole careers are at stake in staff disciplinary boards,” he tells Universitetsläraren.

Adam Brenthel.

A review of the staff disciplinary board cases at Lund University over the past ten years was conducted recently. Brenthel says that the review showed clearly that cases were dealt with very differently. “Sometimes there was deliberation beforehand and sometimes not. Until recently, members were allowed to respond in writing and orally, and now written statements are to be reintroduced during a test period. It is difficult to claim that the process safeguards due legal process when the employer acts in such varied ways and the rules change all the time.”

Call for dialogue
Lund University believes that it is more legally secure that the union represents members in deliberations before the disciplinary board meeting, because it gives everyone the same possibilities, says Brenthel.

“But obviously you should also be able to speak for yourself to the best of your ability in staff disciplinary board hearings, and anyone who wants our support in a disciplinary process will of course get it. We need a proper dialogue so that we have an HR policy that works for the university. Changes should not be sneaked in through the back door.”

Emmeli Nilsson

Universitetsläraren conforms strictly to journalistic principles and follows the media industry’s rules on publication and professional ethics. The magazine is free and independent of its owner, SULF – the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers.
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