Conflict of interest and personal relationships

The University is committed to maintaining a professional working and learning environment, and recognises the importance that the integrity of professional relationships between staff and students and between members of staff play in this.

These guidelines are designed to assist staff in the conduct of relationships that may exist, may have existed in the past or could develop whilst they are in employment at the University; they also apply to situations where, for any reason, a hostile or negative relationship has developed.

The aim of these guidelines is to protect individuals against accusations of bias, preferential or unfair treatment where such a relationship exists, has existed or may develop. The guidelines are also intended to help individuals avoid behaving in a way that may be construed as harassment (addressed through Our Zero Tolerance Approach to Harassment and Bullying).

Where a relationship has not been declared and it is subsequently discovered that bias or unfair treatment had resulted from this in student assessment, recruitment, performance and development review, promotion or other processes, the University may consider pursuing the matter through the disciplinary procedures.

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.

Where a personal relationship exists, has existed or develops between members of staff where one party has a management or supervisory responsibility over the other, the existence, or former existence, of the close personal relationship (but not necessarily its nature) should be disclosed 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 more senior member of staff in the relationship to disclose this information.

Staff who have, or have had, a personal relationship should not be involved in any recruitment, selection, performance and development review, promotion or other processes, which could be perceived to give unfair advantage or disadvantage to the person with whom they have or have had such a relationship.

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.

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.

Staff must bear in mind that they are in a position of authority and trust, and consider carefully how their behaviour and actions may be interpreted or create difficulties. This is important at informal as well as formal events. Differences of attitude, background or culture and the misinterpretation of social signals can mean that what is perceived as harassment by one person may not seem so to another.

The University has a zero tolerance approach to harassment. Any act of harassment 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.

With this in mind, staff are strongly advised not to enter into a sexual and/or romantic relationship with a student particularly one for whom they have this responsibility noting that there may be exceptional occasion where this occurs (where the member of staff is also a student for example). Staff are also discouraged from entering into any other relationship, business, commercial, financial or a close friendship of a social nature, with a student which could compromise, or could be perceived to compromise, the relationship of trust and confidence.

The University recognises, however, that such relationships may exist, either when a member of staff is appointed or when a student enrols, and that a relationship may develop between a member of staff and a student during their course of study. Where a member of staff involved in such a relationship has an assessment, supervising, tutoring, teaching and or pastoral role for that student, it is the responsibility of the member of staff to inform their Head of Department or Section immediately in order that alternative arrangements can be made. This is to protect both the staff member and student from accusations of unfair and preferential treatment.

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 (e.g. 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.

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