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New University Staff grievances policy takes effect July 1

March 19, 2015

On July 1, 2015, UW–Madison’s Classified Staff employee designation will change to University Staff. Chapter 230 of the Wisconsin Statutes, which applies to state employee relations and personnel, will no longer govern these areas; they will be handled exclusively by UW–Madison.

This change makes it necessary to develop UW–Madison-specific policies in several areas, including the grievance process for University Staff (Academic Staff members already have their own grievance policies and procedures). The University Staff grievances policy was finalized in February and will go into effect July 1. The new grievance process is one of more than 20 components that make up HR Design, UW–Madison’s revamping of its human resources system.

Patrick Sheehan, director of workforce relations for the Office of Human Resources (OHR), currently manages the Classified Staff grievance process and has worked with stakeholders across campus, including Classified Staff governance groups, to develop the new policy. Under this policy, employees will continue to have the right to submit formal grievances on disciplinary decisions, discharges and policy compliance issues without experiencing harassment or retaliation.

“The purpose of the grievance policy is to resolve workplace-related disputes and to ensure that policies and procedures are uniformly applied and adhered to on campus,” says Sheehan. “This policy helps make sure that employees are treated fairly and equitably, and managers and supervisors are following UW–Madison policies and procedures.”

The new grievance process includes:

  • Informal resolution between the employee and supervisor
  • Hearing with a college, school or division representative
  • Hearing with the Office of Human Resources
  • Hearing with an impartial hearing panel, campus hearing officer, or the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (if an employee had permanent status before July 1, 2015)

The biggest change from current policy is the creation of an impartial four-person hearing panel to hear disputes. The panel will consist of two University Staff representatives and two representatives chosen by campus administration.

“If the hearing panel can agree to modify, deny or grant a grievance, the process ends there,” says Sheehan. “If the panel reaches an impasse, the grievance may be sent to a campus hearing officer — an impartial arbitrator who is not a UW–Madison employee. Employees who are in permanent status on or before July 1, 2015, will be able to either choose the impartial hearing panel process or go directly to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC), whose decision is final.”

Once a grievance goes to WERC, it is no longer part of the university process. However, if a grievance is considered by the university’s hearing officer, he or she will make a recommendation to the chancellor, who can enforce or overturn the recommendation. The chancellor’s decision is final unless it is a decision on a termination, in which case the Board of Regents is the final decision-maker (after the hearing officer and chancellor). University Staff in permanent positions prior to July 1, 2015, can choose which path to take, but they cannot choose both. University Staff hired after July 1, 2015, will only have the ability to file a grievance through the campus hearing panel and officer.

Sheehan currently handles between 120 and 160 grievances a year. About 40 are appealed to WERC, which conducts a hearing and issues a decision.

“Our goal is to have a new grievance review process in place for University Staff that both employees and managers trust to provide fair and consistent outcomes,” Sheehan says.

Further information on the University Staff grievances policy can be found here.

—Phil Davis