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Dispute Resolution

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2015


Employee disputes are best resolved informally directly between an employee and the supervisor. However, Vanderbilt recognizes that there are situations when a formal process may be beneficial and additional perspectives may be needed to review a dispute. Successful resolution of a dispute requires an open and honest exchange of information, a willingness to see a situation from a different perspective, an appreciation for the challenges and expectations of the jobs of both the employee and the manager, appropriate use of flexibility and an understanding of the business needs of the institution.

The purpose of this policy is to provide an opportunity for Vanderbilt employees to internally resolve disputes arising out of issues concerning the Progressive Discipline Policy (including end of employment) or other policies. This policy does not include concerns regarding performance feedback or a written performance review. Employees utilizing this process in good faith will be protected from any retaliatory actions, such as reprimands or harassment.

The goal of the dispute resolution process is to exchange and review information in order to determine whether revision or rescission is warranted of discipline, end of employment or other application of policy. The first step in the dispute resolution process is a meeting between the employee and immediate supervisor to determine if they can resolve the issue. In the event the employee and the supervisor are not able to resolve the dispute, the employee has the option to request a meeting with Human Resources to facilitate a conversation with the employee and the supervisor. There may be circumstances where HR is able to assist the employee and manager in finding a resolution, before additional levels of management are involved. The process may then continue, as needed, to a departmental review and a panel review.

The dispute resolution process is also available if an employee believes there was a procedural flaw related to a Performance Accountability and Commitment Plan. A procedural flaw relates to process, not content of the plan (performance expectations and examples) or feedback from the supervisor. Examples of a procedural flaw would include if an employee received the written performance plan by e-mail and the manager did not have a conversation with the employee or if the written performance plan did not include the areas of performance that need improvement.

Topics such as the content of the plan (the examples and expectations) and feedback from the supervisor are addressed in the Performance Accountability and Commitment Policy and are not subject to the dispute resolution process.


The dispute resolution process provides opportunities for the exchange of information between the concerned employee and members of management. The process will include in-person meetings and a review of any related documentation to ensure a full understanding of the facts and circumstances and to provide clarification on any issues. As appropriate, written decisions will be provided at the conclusion of the steps for departmental review and panel review.

If there are allegations of a violation of the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Policy, Anti-Harassment Policy, or retaliation, the employee should contact the Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services Department (EAD). If allegations of this nature should arise at any point during the dispute resolution process, the process will be placed on hold while EAD reviews the allegations.

Employees utilizing this process may not be represented by an attorney at any of the internal proceedings nor may a recording device be utilized.

Eligibility and Use of Dispute Resolution Process

All employees (except temporary) who have completed their initial orientation period are eligible to use the Dispute Resolution Process. It may be used to appeal actions involving formal disciplinary written warnings, final warnings, suspensions and termination of employment. The process may not be used to challenge verbal disciplinary warnings, coaching actions, performance feedback or performance review related concerns. Participants who are disruptive of the process (e.g., using threatening behavior) or refuse to abide by the guidelines established in the policy will forfeit their opportunity to participate in the internal process. Failure of the department to meet time limits will move the dispute resolution to the next step of the process. However, if the employee fails to meet the time limits established for a response, the dispute will be considered resolved and the Dispute Resolution Process will be terminated. Time limits may be extended by mutual agreement. It is understood that work-related travel commitments or other significant personal or work-related needs or commitments may justify or necessitate extending deadlines.


Step 1 – Discussion with Supervisor

Employees are always encouraged to address their concerns directly with their immediate supervisor. The first step in the dispute process is a discussion between the employee and the supervisor. This in-person conversation should include a review of the facts and any relevant policies or documents. As appropriate, the employee and supervisor should bring copies of related documents so they can be reviewed during the meeting.

Employees who intend to utilize this process must do so by notifying their supervisor within seven (7) calendar days of the action that gave rise to the dispute. The conversation between the supervisor and the employee should include the issue being disputed and the desired outcome of the dispute process.

If the discussion does not result in a satisfactory resolution, the employee may contact their Human Resources Consultant (HR Consultant) regarding continuing the Dispute Resolution Process. The employee must provide written notice within seven (7) calendar days of meeting with the supervisor, where the dispute was not resolved. The written notice should include a summary of the concern, any related documents and the outcome desired by the employee. When possible, this written notice should be an e-mail to the HR Consultant with the documents attached. If an e-mail is not possible, a written notice with attachments may be delivered to the Office of Human Resources. The form or completeness of the submission will not be used as a justification for ending the dispute resolution process.

Optional Step – Facilitated Conversation with Human Resources

This optional step is available to employees to provide an opportunity for the employee and the supervisor to meet together with a Human Resources professional and attempt to resolve the dispute. As with every step of the process, an open exchange of information is critical for success. A Human Resources professional may be able to help both the employee and the manager to express their thoughts, concerns and willingness to find a resolution.

If resolution is not reached during this step, the employee may proceed to Departmental Review. The employee must notify the HR Consultant in writing or by email within seven (7) calendar days of the facilitated conversation meeting of their request to proceed to Departmental Review. The HR Consultant will inform the employee in writing of the next deadline.

Step 2 – Departmental Review

In the Departmental Review step, the employee meets with an appropriate administrator who will review the concern. The HR Consultant will notify the appropriate administrator and schedule a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity. The administrator will meet with the employee, review their concerns, and within seven (7) calendar days of the meeting provide the employee and HR Consultant with a written decision. If the employee does not consider the issue to be satisfactorily resolved after Departmental Review, they should notify the HR Consultant in writing within seven (7) calendar days of the receipt of the administrator’s decision indicating they want to continue to Panel Review.

Step 3 – Panel Review

A Panel Review is a review process where the employee’s concerns and the departmental actions are heard by a panel of three Vanderbilt leaders selected from a list maintained in the Office of Human Resources. An in-person meeting is conducted with the three panelists, the employee and appropriate member(s) of the management team.

The panelists must objectively review disputes after receiving training in the dispute resolution process. Every effort is made to ensure that the panelists are not closely associated with the employee or with the department. Both the employee member and the department have the right to request and receive a substitute for one of the panelists. Neither the employee nor the department is required to give a reason for requesting the substitution. The Panel will review the information and make recommendations to the appropriate general officer (vice-chancellors, provost or treasurer) or their designee for final disposition. Panelists are selected from a list, maintained in Human Resources, of Administrators from the University. After review by the Panel, a recommendation will be made within seven (7) calendar days to the appropriate general officer or their designee for a final decision.

Human Resources will facilitate this process. An employee utilizing this process may bring one person currently employed by Vanderbilt to the hearing to provide support. Both the department and the affected employee may have witnesses. Witnesses must be current or former Vanderbilt faculty or employee  with direct knowledge of the issues in dispute. If there was an allegation of the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Policy, Anti-Harassment Policy or retaliation, the EAD will be requested to appear at the hearing.

Criteria for Panelists:

  1. Have three years of service;
  2. Be in good standing (employee should not have been placed on either performance or disciplinary actions within the past two years);
  3. Be recommended by the appropriate general officer or their designee; and,
  4. Successfully complete the training on the Dispute Resolution Process.


This policy is intended as a guideline to assist in the consistent and fair application of University policies and programs for employees. The policy does not create a contract implied or expressed, with any Vanderbilt  employee, who are employees at will. Vanderbilt reserves the right to modify this policy in whole or in part, at any time, at the discretion of the University.

Approved by Traci K. Nordberg, Chief Human Resources Officer and Associate Vice Chancellor

Approved by Eric Kopstain, Vice Chancellor for Administration