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The Formal Complaint Process

UCD is committed to providing an environment in which all members of our community should expect to be able to thrive and to be respected and valued for their unique perspectives and contributions so that they can achieve their fullest potential.

Page updated 16 June 2022

Complaints of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct will be treated seriously, objectively and with due regard for the rights and sensitivities of the person raising the issue, referred to as the complainant and the person against whom the issue is being raised, referred to as the respondent. All investigations are conducted by independent trained investigators in Bullying, Harassment and Sexual Misconduct complaints.

These procedures outline the steps involved in a formal investigation of a complaint of bullying, harassment, and/or sexual misconduct. A single investigation can be conducted for combined complaints of bullying, harassment and/or sexual misconduct if the complainant and respondent are the same individuals involved.

UCD has a dedicated Dignity & Respect Support Service available to support individuals who feel they have been subjected to inappropriate behaviour and for individuals who have been accused. If you are experiencing issues of bullying and/or harassment, it is very important that you talk to someone and avail of the supports that are available in the first instance.

Read the Formal Complaints Procedure (PDF) now or view a summary of the process, broken down into broad topics, below.


The Formal Complaint process can be broken in to a number of broad topics, each of which is covered in detail on the pages listed below.

At all times, the University is committed to conducting a fair and impartial investigation and should be conducted with due regard for the following principles;

  • An administrator of the process from either the Employee Relations Unit or Student, Engagement, Conduct, Complaints, Appeals (SECCA) will be appointed as a point of contact for the complainant and respondent. The appointed external investigator is required to update the parties on the progress of the investigation on a bi-weekly basis. The investigator will agree with the parties how they will communicate the progress update, whether by email or telephone update.
  • All investigations are carried out by independent trained investigators in Dignity and Respect complaints.
  • Adequate resources will be made available to fund the implementation of the procedure. The appointment of an external investigator is covered by the University.  
  • Raising and considering a complaint of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct can be a stressful experience for all parties involved. All parties are entitled to be treated with respect. At all times, a complainant and respondent will be supported.
  • The investigation process will be fully transparent for the complainant and respondent and all meetings will be conducted sensitively and with due respect to the rights of all concerned. 
  • Findings of an investigation will be based on the balance of probabilities. In the absence of any corroborative evidence for either side the case rests on the balance of probabilities which, in turn, depends on the credibility which can be ascribed to each party.
  • All parties involved in this procedure, including the complainant, respondent, witnesses and those managing processes, must ensure that they maintain the confidentiality in accordance with the policy. Confidentiality is integral to the process. This does not preclude parties to the complaint from accessing confidential support services. 
  • The principles of natural justice and fair procedure will at all times be afforded to both the complainant and the respondent. 
  • The passages of time can affect such things as witness memory and evidence preservation which can impact the findings of an investigation. The University would encourage and support complainants to come forward to make a formal complaint as soon as possible.   In addition, complainants should do their best to document and record incidents as they happen (or soon after) if possible.  
  • Every person who plays a role in this procedure has a responsibility to act in accordance with this procedure, to deal with issues promptly and not cause unreasoned delay.
  • All parties are obliged to co-operate and make themselves available as a matter of priority to ensure that the investigation can be completed within a reasonable timeframe. It is also important that parties who are not members of the University community co-operate in order to support the resolution of issues in a timely manner. 
  • The investigation should be completed in a timely manner. Timelines as set out in the procedures /terms of reference should be adhered to. 
  • The nature of the allegations may mean that it is necessary to notify legal or regulatory authorities, which as a consequence might require the University to comply with an investigation led by a legal or regulatory body, such as the Child and Family Agency, which may take precedence over this procedure. This procedure may continue in parallel or may have to be suspended and continued later.
  • Every effort will be made to take precautionary measures that are deemed reasonable and necessary where instances are reported to enable issues to be addressed and to support individuals involved.

Other Stakeholders

Where an employee/student identifies a breach of this policy which constitutes a potential criminal offence or an immediate threat to safety, they have the right to report the matter to the Gardaí or local police authority. Individuals should also inform the University through their line manager, so that appropriate steps can be taken, and support provided.

Should a complaint submitted to the University be investigated by An Garda Síochána, the University reserves the right to suspend its own investigation, based on the individual facts of the case, until the investigation by An Garda Síochána has come to an end. Once the University is notified of the completion of a Garda investigation by the complainant, the University investigation will commence. An Garda Síochána may also request that the internal investigation be suspended until they confirm that it can resume. The University will keep the situation under review. The complainant and/or respondent will have the right to contest this decision, which will be considered by the University. 

In the instance that a complainant does not wish to make a complaint to An Garda Síochána, but does wish for the University to formally investigate the complaint, an internal investigation can proceed.

The University will only in the most exceptional circumstances, and with the benefit of specific legal advice, report a complaint to the Gardaí contrary to the wishes of the complainant. The circumstance in which a report by the University may be justified if the complainant is a minor, vulnerable person 

or if there is considered to be a clear and imminent risk to the safety of the complainant or of third parties. If the University does decide that it is necessary to report the allegation to the Gardaí, then the reasons for taking that action will be explained to the complainant so that they understand what is happening and they can be prepared if/when the Gardaí contact them. Further details are located in the Dignity and Respect Procedures.

If a student or an employee is acquitted of a criminal offence, then an investigation can still be taken under this Procedure and the Policy. The standard of proof for a civil investigation is on the balance of probabilities and not beyond all reasonable doubt as applies to a criminal case.

When the criminal process has concluded, UCD may refer the matter for consideration under its disciplinary procedures. Where the respondent has been convicted, this can be relied upon to establish a disciplinary offence without requiring internal investigation. 

For jurisdictions outside of Ireland, advice will be sought by UCD Legal on the relevant legal system on a case-by-case basis.

If a student has exhausted the University’s internal complaint process and remains dissatisfied with the handling of their complaint, they may complain to the Office of the Ombudsman who may consider the case and make a decision on whether to investigate. Students under the age of 18 should refer their complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman for Children.

Information on how to complain to the Office of the Ombudsman and its processes of investigation can be found on the Office of the Ombudsman website. Information on how to complain to the Office of the Ombudsman for Children and its processes of investigation can be found on the Office of the Ombudsman for Children website at: http://www.oco.ie/complaints/

The HSA operates under the statutory powers of the 2005 Act. Its purpose is to provide protection for employees in all places of work in the Republic of Ireland. The overarching tenet of the 2005 Act is to oversee the employer duty to ensure everyone at work is provided with a workplace and system of work which is, as far as is reasonably practicable, free from risk to health and to safety. There are, within the 2005 Act, specific duties on employers and others on employees, to uphold and promote this standard, as well as a healthy and safe culture. There are provisions within the 2005 Act which are relevant to the issue of workplace bullying, both directly and/or indirectly. Section 8 2(b) directly references ‘improper conduct’ and the employer duty to ensure the workplace has an adequate system in place to prevent such conduct. Section 19 (Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment) and section 20 (Safety Statement) reference the employer duty to have in place adequate systems of work and to record these actions in written form. Section 13 (Duties of Employee) includes the employee duties to cooperate with such employer activities.

The WRC’s objective at all times is to achieve harmonious working relations between employers and employees. The Commission would always encourage local discussion on, and resolution of, disputes and issues which arise in the workplace including cases of alleged bullying. The Workplace Relations Commission delivers several services which may assist.

  • Individual and collective workplace mediation focus on seeking to resolve the matter at an early stage locally before a formal process is initiated. This is dependent on the agreement of the parties concerned to participate and is provided by the WRC on an ad hoc basis.
  • Workplace mediation provides a confidential, professional, efficient and effective process to assist all parties in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement or outcome to a dispute or claim. This approach often helps to avoid more formal processes.
  • It is particularly suited to disputes involving individuals or small groups of workers who find themselves dealing with situations which may involve the following interpersonal differences, conflicts, difficulties in working together, breakdown in a working relationship. 
  • Reviewing overall workplace relations generally in organisations and assisting with the implementation of positive engagement measures. The provision of Adjudication services under Section 13 of the Industrial Relations Act 1969 following the exhaustion of internal procedures (note: the grounds of a referral to an Adjudication Officer is around the conduct of an investigation in terms of fairness and adherence to fair process and procedure).

Contact UCD Dignity & Respect

University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
T: 01 716 7716 | E: respect@ucd.ie | Location Map