Harassment and inappropriate conduct complaint procedures

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Introduction

As Convention Organisers it is our aim to provide all attendees an enjoyable, positive experience, free from harassment and inappropriate conduct. Beyond such an aim we have a responsibility to put in place procedures to protect convention attendees from such behaviour.

This document details the procedures to be undertaken by the Convention Organisers to:

  • inform convention attendees of conduct that is unacceptable
  • inform convention attendees of the process of making a complaint
  • to manage and investigate complaints received
  • to act on the outcome of the investigation
  • to record the events surrounding the complaint

Definitions

For the purposes of this procedure the following terms are defined below. The term harassment, and it's specific subtypes, have definitions under UK law; as such the terms should be used very carefully in the management of complaints.

Harassment: The accepted legal definition of harassment is "unwanted conduct on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc, which has the purpose or effect of either violating the claimant's dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them." Harassment can be based on sex, race, culture/ethnicity , religious belief, disability, age or gender reassignment.

Inappropriate conduct: This is defined here as "conduct towards an individual that is unwanted and causes discomfort, intimidation, offense or humiliation, or creates an intimidating environment."

Complainant: An individual making a complaint of harassment or inappropriate conduct.

Respondent: An individual against whom a complaint of harassment or inappropriate conduct has been made.

Roles and Responsibilities

Convention organiser

For Concrete Cow, the Convention Organiser is Neil Smith. They are responsible for ensuring:

  • all staff are aware of this procedure and their responsibilities under it
  • a copy of the harassment and inappropriate conduct policy is posted publicly in a communal area such as reception or the game muster area
  • a Complaint Manager is appointed to deal with complaints received
  • all staff know how to contact event security personnel (where available) and the police
  • all complaint handling and investigation complies with this procedure and is fair and unbiased
  • that the appropriate outcome is determined for each complaint
  • that all records are completed and retained correctly

In addition the Convention Organiser is responsible for determining the action to be undertaken following the investigation of a complaint by the Complaint Manager, and for enforcing any outcome with the support of the Complaint Manager.

Complaint Manager

For Concrete Cow, the Complaint Manager is Neil Smith. They are responsible for:

  • interviewing the Complainant to determine the specifics of their complaint
  • interviewing the Respondent to record their response to any accusations
  • interviewing witnesses towards investigating the complaint
  • summarising the complaint for the Convention Organiser
  • preparing part one of the complaint record

The selection of the Complaint Manager should be undertaken carefully; the position is best suited to a calm, balanced and open-minded person with good communications skills and sufficient life experience to be able to handle difficult or contentious situations without bias.

Other convention staff

All other convention staff must ensure that:

  • they are aware of the harassment and inappropriate conduct policy statement
  • they are aware of the identity of the nominated Complaint Manager
  • all complaints are referred to the Complaint Manager immediately

Complaint Handling

Confidentiality

Complaints can be stressful and contentious and as such all complaints should be actioned as confidentially and discretely as possible. The events of the complaint should not be discussed with individuals not involved in the complaint and when witnesses are interviewed no details should be shared with them beyond those required to enable questions to be asked. All records should be retained only by the Convention Organiser. Complainants and Respondents should be provided with a copy of the complaint record upon request.

Receiving a complaint

When a complaint is received by any member of convention staff the Complainant is to be referred to the Complaint Manager immediately. The Convention Organiser should be informed that a complaint has been received prior to the Complainant being interviewed where possible, but should not be involved in the investigation.

All information pertaining to the complaint should be recorded in on the harassment complaint record form and kept confidential.

Interviewing the Complainant

The Complaint Manager should interview the Complainant as soon as possible after the receipt of the complaint. This interview should take place in a quiet, private area, with a chaperone if this is deemed necessary or requested by either party. This interview does not have to be a formal event, and could take the form of an chat in a quiet side area.

During the interview the Complaint Manager should attempt to uncover all key points about the complaint. Specific attention should be paid to the following:

  • the identity of the Respondent(s)
  • the events and actions being complained about
  • the location and time of the events being complained about
  • witnesses to the events being complained about
  • what outcome the Complainant is looking for (an apology, the Respondent being asked to stay away from them, the Respondent being ejected, etc)

Interviewing the Respondent(s)

Following the Complainant interview the Respondent(s) should be informed that a complaint has been received about their activities and that an investigation is being undertaken. They should be offered the chance to explain the events from their point of view in an interview (or informal chat if the Complaint Manager deems it appropriate). The interview should focus on the specifics of the accusation.

Interviewing any witnesses

If there are witnesses to the events they should be approached by the Complaint Manager and asked about the events. They should not be provided with details of the complaint, and any questions should be specifically targeted towards the events of the complaint.

Deciding the complaint

When the Complainant, Respondent(s) and all witnesses have been interviewed the Complaint Manager will detail the specifics of the complaint to the Convention Organiser, who will determine on the balance of probabilities (the events of the complaint do not have to be proved "beyond reasonable doubt" as in a criminal prosecution, but simply be "more likely than not to have occurred" to be upheld) the validity of the complaint within one of the following three categories:

  • complaint upheld
  • complaint not upheld but believed to be in good faith
  • complaint not upheld and believed to be malicious in nature

Complaint upheld

Where the complaint is deemed to be valid the Convention Organiser will determine the sanctions (if any) to be undertaken against the Respondent.

Complaint not upheld

Where the complaint is deemed not to be valid the Convention Organiser must determine if the complaint is believed to have been made in good faith (i.e. that the Complainant made the complaint genuinely and not simply to cause discomfort for the Respondent).

If the complaint was not upheld but was made in good faith then no sanctions should be taken against any involved parties.

If the complaint was believed to be malicious the Convention Organiser must determine the sanctions to be taken against the Complainant (a malicious complaint is a form of inappropriate conduct towards the Respondent and should be dealt with as seriously as any complaint).

Determining sanctions

Following the determination that sanctions are appropriate, the Convention Organiser must assess the severity of the actions and determine the appropriate sanctions. The Complainant's wishes should be considered, but the Convention Organiser has a responsibility to ensure sanctions are proportionate to the actions. Many Complainants are happy with an apology and reassurance that the actions will not be repeated; severe sanctions such as ejection frm the event and/or banning from future events should be used carefully.

Informing the Complainant and Respondent

The Convention Organiser should separately inform the Complainant and Respondent of the determination and any sanctions. Where either party is unhappy with the outcome they should be directed to complain to the Convention Organiser in writing so the complaint can be reassessed (this reassessment need not necessarily take place during the convention).

Complaints record

Once the complaint has been resolved the Convention Organiser and Complaint Manager must complete the complaints record detailing the outcome and sanctions. This record is retained by the Convention Organiser.

Third-party complaints

Where a third party informs a convention staff member that another convention attendee has been treated inappropriately the Complaint Manager should discuss this with both the third party and the attendee named as having been treated inappropriately separately to determine if the complaint has basis. If the named attendee does not wish to pursue a complaint then the process may not be necessary, but the Complaint Manager should consider if the actions of the Respondent have caused offence for the third party (for example, comments of a sexual nature directed towards a convention attendee that the attendee does not object to may still be offensive to third parties) - in this case the third party may become the Complainant.

Managing the process

Though the above process is detailed and complete, many complaints may be resolved quickly and simply following a short chat with the Complainant, a short chat with the Respondent, and an apology or other quickly determined sanction. The Convention Organiser should ensure that all complaints are appropriately managed and recorded even if the processes steps are modified due to the specifics of the complaint.

Potential criminal actions

Convention staff should be aware of the limits of this policy and ensure that any actions that are potentially criminal (including but not limited to: actions of a sexual nature that can constitute sexual assault, physical attacks, damage to property, etc) are referred to the appropriate authorities.

Record Keeping

Details of all complaints should be recorded on the harassment complaint record.

Responsibilities

The Convention Organiser is responsible for retaining records of any complaints handled in a secure location in line with the requirements of data protection. Each complaint record should be sealed in an individual envelope with the names of the Complainant(s) and Respondent(s) on the outside and the date of the complaint. No further details should be written on the envelope. The envelopes are to be stored in a location that prevents public access to the complaint documents.

Retention policy

All complaint records are to be retained for 12 months from the date of complaint in case of the event of challenge to the outcome (either directly from the Complainant(s)/Respondent(s) or legal authorities).

Destruction policy

All complaint records greater than 12 months old and not currently involved in ongoing action should be destroyed by shredding.

Release policy

Complaint records should not be disclosed to parties other than the Complainant(s), Respondent(s), the Complaint Manager or Convention Organiser without good reason, and all releases should be supported by requests in-writing.