Regulations for personal relationships in the workplace

For Radboud University, attention to others, honesty, respect and integrity are the foundations of a socially safe environment and solid professional relationships. Radboud University values and trusts the integrity of these relationships. Wherever people come together, private relationships can emerge or coexist alongside professional ones. The purpose of these regulations is to provide all Radboud University staff members with information on how to deal with potential overlaps in professional and private relationships. For the sake of improved readability and searchability, every type of relationship is numbered separately.

Scope

The scope of these regulations extends to the staff members of Radboud University in the broadest sense. This includes Radboud University colleagues, as well as visiting staff (e.g. contract and external PhD students) and people without contract but appointed as (special) professors by the Radboud University Executive Board.  These regulations pertain to private relationships with reciprocal approval; other regulations apply to undesired situations, such as the Regulations for Undesirable Behaviour.

Relationships in the workplace

A professional relationship exists between staff members, between a staff member of the University and a staff member of external parties who have business relationships with the University, and between a staff member and a student. The purpose of the professional relationship lies outside of the private sphere.

A private relationship is defined as a friendly, sexual, romantic or (intact or disrupted) family relationship, that by their nature can't be broken.  Private relationships can overlap with professional ones. Good professional relationships are important in the workplace; work environment, productivity and creative improve as a result of them. These relationships can also give rise to friendships, and this is not an issue. There may be circumstances in which the combination of professional and private relationships can lead to vulnerability or risks to integrity. It is essential that this be discussed and to be transparent about it.

Integrity risks

The basic principle is that, as an employer, we do not interfere with private relationships, friendships or choices of partner. These regulations apply when any of these relationships might cause integrity risks or have a negative impact on the working environment.

Integrity risks can come in various forms, such as: 

  • Conflicts of interest. Staff members may have private interests that are at odds with the performance of their duties at the University and may adversely affect their performance. Conflicts of interest could arise in the case of financial decisions, a promotion, education or professional reputation, access to confidential information and access to certain facilities.
  • Disadvantaging. This can be understood to mean unjustifiably giving someone less than others.
  • Favouritism. This can be understood to mean unjustifiably giving someone more than others or granting them special favours.
  • Abuse of power. This is understood to mean the deliberate use of position or power to unlawfully disadvantage or benefit oneself or the person with whom a relationship of power exists.
  • The appearance of a conflict of interest, favouritism or disadvantaging and abuse of power may also occur. The integrity risk is greater if the roles of those involved interact in some way. The risk is also greater if there is a relationship of dependency, such as a relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate, a relationship between a PhD candidate and their (co)promoter or PhD supervisor, or a relationship between a staff member and a student.

 

Relationships and reporting requirements 

It is necessary to remain professional and objective at work. If the relationship may be a problem and form an integrity risk, this is undesirable and reporting it is mandatory. If this is the case, the staff member must report it immediately to their supervisor or their supervisor's supervisor, even if the impact of the relationship poses no risk according to the staff member. The staff member and supervisor will look at possible risks and solutions together. If necessary, work arrangements can be made, dividing tasks differently or one of the two may go to another department. If desired, the staff member can be advised by an HR staff member or a confidential advisor prior to potentially making a report (link to confidential advisors).

There is also anobligation to report if you, as an employee of the University, have a professional and private relationship with an external relation of the University, such as a contractor, customer or supplier.

The recipient of the report should handle it discreetly and with respect for the privacy of those involved.

Relationships between a staff member and a student

Radboud University believes that good professional relationships between staff and students are vital for students’ development and that these relationships should be based on trust. Every professional relationship between a staff member and a student is, by nature, a power and dependency relationship, focused on growth and development in the broad sense of the word. In this context, a professional relationship refers to any relationship where the staff member has a role in advising, supporting, appraising, guiding, decision-making and/or providing administrative or technical support.

For the duration of the professional relationship, staff members (TSP and WP) may not have private relationships with a student that could compromise the impartiality or objectivity of the professional relationship, could lead to socially unsafe situations, or that could lead to favouritism or disadvantaging students.

Staff members must avoid personal contact with individual students in situations or at locations (e.g. receiving a student one-to-one at home) in which they could create the appearance of (sexual) harassment or abuse of power, or which could be interpreted as such in the moment or in retrospect. The University strives to create a safe working environment in which lecturers and other staff members call each other to account for this and alert each other to the prevention of undesirable or potentially undesirable behaviour

When to report?

A staff member who has a professional relationship as well as a private relationship with a student shall report this relationship to their supervisor or their supervisor's supervisor as soon as possible. Failure to report in a timely manner is a dereliction of duty. Reports are treated confidentially. If the supervisor considers that the relationship poses a risk to integrity, measures may be taken after consulting with the parties involved.

If desired, the staff member can be advised by an HR staff member or a confidential advisor prior to potentially making a report (link to confidential advisors).  

Relationships between supervisors and ‘subordinates’

Private relationships between functional or hierarchical supervisors and ‘subordinates’ are undesirable. Situations in which personal friends, partners or family members work in a hierarchical relationship with each other, assess or monitor each other’s work, certify or authorise each other are similarly undesirable.

Of special note is the relationship between a PhD candidate and their (co)promoter/supervisor. Every professional relationship between a PhD candidate and their (co)promoter/supervisor is, by nature, a power and dependency relationship. For the duration of the PhD track, a personal relationship between the PhD candidate and their (co)promoter/supervisor is therefore undesirable. The promoter must report such a relationship to their supervisor or their supervisor's supervisor.

When to report?

When situations like those described in section 6 occur, it is important that potential integrity risks are explicitly discussed with the concerned supervisor or their supervisor. The highest-ranking person must report the relationship to their supervisor or supervisor's supervisor as soon as possible. Failure to report in a timely manner is a dereliction of duty. Reports are treated confidentially. If the supervisor considers that the private relationship constitutes a risk to integrity, measures may be taken.

If desired, the staff member can be advised by an HR staff member or a confidential advisor prior to potentially making a report (link to confidential advisors).  

Relationships between a staff member and an external party

It may occur that a Radboud University staff member has a professional and private relationship with an external party of the University. This may include customers, contractors or suppliers. In this context, a professional relationship is defined as a relationship in which the staff member has an authorising, evaluative or supervisory role regarding the external party.

Situations in which a staff member has a professional and private relationship with an external party are undesirable.

When to report?

A staff member who has a professional as well as a private relationship with an external party must inform their supervisor or their supervisor's supervisor of the existence of the relationship as soon as possible. If desired, the staff member can be advised by an HR staff member or a confidential advisor prior to potentially making a report (link to confidential advisors).  Failure to report in a timely manner is a dereliction of duty. Reports are treated confidentially. If the supervisor considers that the relationship poses a risk to integrity, measures may be taken.

Relationships between staff members

It can occur that Radboud University staff members have personal friendships, or family or romantic relationships with each other, as well as a professional relationship. In these cases, it is important that all those involved continue to act professionally and objectively, and are aware of the risks to integrity that these private relationships pose. If the concerned parties think that there may be a risk to integrity or the appearance of such, they are both obliged to report this to their supervisor.

When to report?

A staff member who has a professional and a private relationship with a colleague that may involve a risk or a perceived risk to integrity must inform their supervisor or their supervisor's supervisor of the existence of the relationship as soon as possible. If desired, the staff member can be advised by an HR staff member or a confidential advisor prior to potentially making a report (link to confidential advisors).  Failure to report in a timely manner is a dereliction of duty. Reports are treated confidentially. If the supervisor considers that the relationship poses a risk to integrity, measures may be taken.

Confidential advisors

Lack of clarity on reporting obligations and/or risks to integrity

If staff members have doubts about their duty to report and/or the existence of an integrity risk, they can seek confidential advice from the head of HR of their department or faculty, or a confidential advisor or the ombudsperson. If any doubts remain after counselling, staff members must report the relationship.

What will happen after a report?  

If desired, supervisors can conduct a discussion with the staff member(s) concerned in the presence of the head of HR and/or a confidential advisor. The head of HR can advise the staff member(s) and supervisor, and record any agreements made.

The discussion has three purposes:

  1. Determine whether there are any integrity risks;
  2. To further identify these integrity risks (including what tasks and powers are involved), if relevant; and
  3. To take measures to counteract any integrity risks, if relevant.

The head of HR, the supervisor and the staff member(s) will discuss how the situation should be dealt with. If necessary, work arrangements will be made or tasks redistributed, but a transfer to another department or unit may also be appropriate.

Members of the executive board

Members of the Executive Board who have a relationship with a student, a member of the university staff or an external relationship of the University must report this relationship to the chair of the Radboud University Foundation Supervisory Board and to the other members of the Executive Board. 

The Radboud University Foundation Supervisory Board shall discuss the possible existence of a conflict of interest and how to resolve it without the concerned Executive Board member being present. The Executive Board member shall not take part in any discussions or decision-making processes that involve subjects or transactions where they may have a conflict of interest.

Measures

What constitutes an ‘appropriate action’ may vary on a case-by-case basis. The starting point is the creation of a socially safe working environment and study conditions, and the avoidance of situations wherein the appearance of a breach in integrity could be levelled against staff members or Radboud University.

If there is a private and professional relationship between a staff member and a student, the supervisor shall ensure that the staff member is not required to assess the student concerned in terms of their education or research work or make decisions about the student in any other way.

The supervisor decides whether the role/competency/task can still be reasonably performed or not in consultation with the staff member(s). If not, the basic principle is that tasks should be assigned differently. If this is not possible, transfer to another department or service unit may be considered. External secondment may also be an option.

In the case of private relationships with hierarchical professional relationships, the basic principle is that either the range of tasks of one of the parties involved should change to such an extent that this kind of hierarchy ceases to exist, or one of the parties accepts a transfer by mutual agreement.  Any agreements shall be recorded. Staff members must conform to this. For privacy reasons, the reason for the appointment change will not be recorded in the confirmation of the change. 

If staff members do not comply or cooperate in finding a reasonable solution, or if the reporting obligation is not met, as a last resort, disciplinary actions under employment law may be taken.