Conflict of interest and personal relationships

The University is committed to creating a working and learning environment which is safe, collegial and respectful where all can achieve their full potential. We expect everyone on our campuses, including employees, workers, contractors and students to be treated and treat each other with dignity and respect.

The University wants to promote a work and study environment that is free from relationships that can cause a real or perceived conflict of interest and abuse of power and therefore strongly discourages personal relationships (especially those of a sexual nature) between staff and students.

Relationships between staff and students

Whilst we strongly discourage and advise against these types of relationships, we recognise that for various reasons personal relationships between staff and students may exist in some cases. These guidelines are intended to help individuals avoid behaving in a way that may constitute or be construed as harassment, bias or an abuse of power. They also aim to protect individuals against accusations of bias, preferential or unfair treatment where such a relationship exists, has existed or may develop.

The guidelines aim to ensure that there are safeguards and processes in pace to prevent abuses of power and sexual misconduct; set out our expectations and make clear what steps we will take should incidents be reported. The guidelines also apply to situations where, for any reason, a hostile or negative relationship has developed.

Definition of relationships between staff and students

The University believes that the professional relationship between a student and a member of staff is an important part of a student's educational development. It is vital that trust and confidence exist between staff and students to ensure that students derive maximum benefit from their studies.

In this context a professional relationship is defined as one where there is:

  • education, including teaching and assessment
  • supervisory and or pastoral care; or
  • responsibility on the part of the member of staff.

Requirement to declare a relationship

Any personal relationships that develop between staff and students must be declared to the Head of Department, Head of Section, Executive Dean, Registrar and Secretary or other relevant manager. In the case of a Head of Department, the Executive Dean should be notified.

It is the responsibility of the staff member to declare a personal relationship with a student and failure to do so may result in disciplinary proceedings.

Any bias, or unfair treatment that has resulted in student assessment, recruitment, performance and development review, promotion or other processes due to a personal relationship, will result in disciplinary action against the staff member.

Staff who are uncertain about whether they should declare a personal relationship with a student are invited to seek guidance on a confidential basis from the Employee Relations team in People and Culture.

Relationships with young people aged 16-17

It should be noted that whilst a child can consent to sexual activity once they reach the age of 16, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 it is a criminal offence for a person over 18 to have a sexual relationship with a child under 18 where that person is in a position of trust (eg. teacher, student mentor, academic staff), even if the relationship is consensual.

Staff who are uncertain about whether they should declare a personal relationship with a student are invited to seek guidance on a confidential basis from the HR Operations Manager. Failure to declare such a relationship may result in disciplinary action being taken.

Relationships between staff members

Personal relationships can also exist between staff members and in certain situations can be a conflict of interest or risk potential abuse of power, especially if one party is in a more senior role to the other.

Whilst the requirement to declare is not the same as when a personal relationship exists between a staff and student member, personal relationships between staff members must be declared where one party has line management or supervisory responsibility of the other or where they may be involved in certain decisions and processes such recruitment, selection, performance, progression, development promotion or any other decision, which could be perceived to give unfair advantage or disadvantage to the person with whom they have or have had such a relationship.

This should also protect individuals from accusations of bias and abuse of power. It is the responsibility of the more senior member of staff in the relationship to disclose this information to their line manager or another senior appropriate senior person for example; Head of Department, Head of Section, Executive Dean or Director, Registrar and Secretary.

Definition of relationships between members of staff

In the context of this policy statement, a personal relationship is defined as a:

  • family relationship
  • business or commercial relationship
  • financial relationship
  • sexual and /or romantic relationship
  • close friendship of a social nature, which extends beyond the workplace; or
  • membership of a group or organisation which could be perceived to operate for the advancement of its members interests to the detriment of others.

Recruitment of staff

It is the responsibility of staff involved in the recruitment process to declare to the Chair of the panel or committee and the Resourcing Adviser, at the earliest possible opportunity, any relationship they may have, or have had, with an applicant. This is to ensure that there is no conflict of interest or unfair advantage gained during the recruitment process.

Zero-tolerance approach to harassment 

The University has a zero-tolerance approach to any form of harassment including those of a sexual nature and bullying. Any act that involves the abuse of a position of authority or trust will be regarded by the University as very serious and could constitute gross misconduct.

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