'Today's law does not allow a student to accuse a lecturer of mobbing'. Interview with dr hab. Joanna Kruczalak-Jankowska, prof. UG


- 'In my opinion, most of the cases we have to deal with are the result of unresolved conflicts, lack of immediate reaction of superiors to undesirable behaviour, and finally, a cultural change related to the perception of the position of employees in a specific, previously (not only at UG) strongly hierarchical academic environment. Last, but not least, it is the changing sensitivity of the younger generation, which assesses in a different way behaviours that have been accepted in the work environment for years' - says dr hab. Joanna Kruczalak-Jankowska, prof. UG, Spokesperson for Equal Treatment and Anti-Harassment at the University of Gdańsk, in an interview with Elżbieta Michalak-Witkowska from the Press Office UG. You are welcome to read further.

Elżbieta Michalak-Witkowska: - 'The Spokesperson for Equal Treatment and Anti-Harassment was appointed at the University of Gdańsk by Rector—prof. Piotr Stepnowski on February 1, 2021. Since then, the Spokesperson's Office has been in place, made up of three employees specialising in, among other things, conflict resolution. What exactly do you deal with?'

Dr hab. Joanna Kruczalak-Jankowska, prof. UG: - The position of Plenipotentiary for Anti-Harassment and Unequal Treatment has already been in place at the university since 2016. Appreciating the seriousness of the problem, the Rector in 2021 upgraded the institution and established an entire office with three people. Prof. Błażek, a psychologist and mediator who deals with conflicts from the psychological side, continues to serve as a conflict resolution specialist.

Two lawyers are also working in the office - myself and dr hab. Maciej Nyka, prof. UG. I deal with cases and problems arising between employees, while prof. Nyka deals exclusively with issues in the student-doctorate-employee interface related to unequal treatment and discrimination (since the concept of mobbing is regulated only in the Labour Code and applies only to employee relations).

- What is mobbing? Harassment, humiliation, discrimination? I understand that in the legal sphere, it applies only to conflicts in the workplace and not between, for example, a student and a lecturer.

- A lot of confusion has arisen around the concept of mobbing. In common parlance, mobbing is understood as harassment, persistent harassment and intimidation, and psychological violence against a subordinate or colleague in the workplace. The term is derived from the English verb to mob (to solicit, assault, accost) and the noun mob (crowd). In English, the term has a broader meaning that does not only apply to the workplace. The Polish legislator defines the term differently and has regulated this phenomenon exclusively in employee relations (Article 943 § 2 of the Labour Code).

- The main task of your office is to ensure equal treatment, especially protection against discrimination, harassment or intimidation of co-workers, and thus to take care of a good atmosphere in the workplace. By what means do you try to achieve these objectives?

- We carry out preventive, educational and formal-complaint activities. We are involved in several activities, but the main ones include, in particular, training, the implementation of a gender equality monitoring system - as part of the MindTheGeps project and the investigation of the validity of complaints in cases of violation of equal treatment or harassment.

- Let us stop for a moment at the theory. Conflict and mobbing - what are the differences?

- Mobbing should indeed be distinguished from conflict. However, it is often the case that a long-lasting, unresolved conflict can ultimately have effects similar to mobbing, which undoubtedly does not serve to create the kind of work atmosphere that is conducive to the effective performance of employee tasks, which is what every employer should care about.

The main difference between conflict and mobbing in practice lies in the reasons for their emergence. The cause of conflict is the conflicting aspirations or interests of the persons in conflict, while the cause of mobbing lies in the person of the mobber. The primary purpose of such a person is to persistently and over a long period of time harass or intimidate an employee, causing them to have a low opinion of their professional suitability, causing or aiming to humiliate or ridicule the employee, isolate them or eliminate them from their team of co-workers.

- If someone feels bullied, they have the right to file a complaint. What is the procedure for making a complaint at UG? Do you have to fill in a request and send/carry it in person to the office? Do you accept anonymous requests?

- To initiate formal proceedings, a complaint must be made. An employee who identifies that they may be a victim of harassment or discrimination should scrupulously record all manifestations of harassment or discrimination (day, time, manner), as well as witnesses to the incident (if any), and keep this data for possible investigation by the Employer or in court. The employee should remember that in cases of mobbing or discrimination, the burden of proof is on the employee, so the person who suspects that actions of a mobbing or discriminatory nature are being taken against them should indicate the existence of specific facts, signs of mobbing or discrimination, as well as the persons responsible for these actions.

The complaint should meet the following requirements: describe the facts of the case, identify what specific actions or behaviours of superiors or co-workers the employee believes to be mobbing or discrimination, identify by name the person or persons who the employee believes to be the perpetrators of mobbing or discrimination, include a statement of reasons and cite evidence that the actions or behaviours presented are occurring or have occurred, the complaint should furthermore be dated and signed by the reporting employee themselves.

We do not accept anonymous requests and do not formally address them.

At this point, we must maintain confidentiality - people accused of mobbing take the defence and may find the accusations against them unfounded. If such accusations were expressed publicly, they could constitute a violation of their rights or lead to defamation.

- You have explained how to prepare oneself to give evidence. And what is meant by proof of actual misconduct? Should the person making the complaint have specific evidence to back up their words, e.g. a video or an audio recording? Or is a mere account/description of events by the aggrieved person sufficient?

- All evidence, written correspondence, emails, witness statements, and recordings are evidence in the case, and it is essential to have them. A recording without the person's consent may constitute a violation of personal rights. At the same time, it is clear from case law, in mobbing cases, that the courts allow recordings as evidence if they are to confirm or provide additional proof of undesirable behaviour.

I would also like to draw attention to the investigative activities undertaken by the spokesperson. The Spokesperson interviews the complainant and then asks the person or persons concerned by the complaint for clarification. The interviews we have had so far reinforce our conviction that it is necessary to educate the academic community about the legal and psychological conditions of the phenomena dealt with by our office. I hold such a conversation as a spokesperson, but I also generally ask the deputy spokesperson Professor Magda Blażek for psychological consultation. Our main goal is to bring about an amicable resolution of the conflict using the basic tools of the so-called restorative justice, which may, first of all, take the form of an official apology but is primarily intended to serve the prevention of mobbing, i.e. to remove the causes of the conflict or avoid behaviour that may adversely affect the functioning of organisational units at the UG.

- What happens when your office receives a complaint? Is an investigation initiated every time? Is a special committee then called in? How does it work?

- The Spokesperson, after an initial formal investigation or hearing with the parties to the complaint, may: decide to conduct mediation, which aims to clarify and conciliate the matter and possibly prevent similar situations in the future. It may also apply to the Rector for the appointment of a Commission if mediation has failed or there is a likelihood of mobbing or discrimination.

- How many reports have been received by the Office since its inception? How many cases have been discontinued, and how many have been resolved? Can you give an example - what were these reports about?

Since its inception, the Office has received 13 formal complaints, some of which have been resolved amicably and some terminated at the investigation stage after implementing recommendations proposed by the Spokesperson. Some cases are pending. No request has been made to set up the Committee referred to in paragraph 8 of the Rector's Order.

Sometimes, however, people use only the support of prof. Błażek or come to the Office to initially clarify their doubts. In my opinion, most of the cases we have to deal with are the result of unresolved conflicts, the lack of immediate reaction from superiors to undesirable behaviour, and finally, the cultural change related to the perception of the position of employees in a specific, hitherto (not only at UG) strongly hierarchical academic environment. Last, but not least, it is the changing sensitivity of the younger generation, assessing differently behaviours that have been accepted in the working environment for years.

- Thank you for the interview.


Would you like to use the UG Equal Treatment and Anti-Mobbing Spokesperson's help? Take a look at these documents:

1. The Spokesperson's Office website: https://old.ug.edu.pl/uniwersytet/struktura_ug/administracja_centralna/rektor/biuro_rzecznika_ds_rownego_traktowania_i_przeciwdzialania_mobbingow

2. The legal basis for the action and the online training available can be found at the link leading to a series of educational meetings conducted on the initiative of the Equal Treatment and Anti-Mobbing Spokesperson: https://ug.edu.pl/o-uczelni/uniwersytet-odpowiedzialny-spolecznie/biuro-rzecznika-ds-rownego-traktowania-i-przeciwdzialania-mobbingowi

3. Code of Ethics for UG Academic Staff: https://bip.ug.edu.pl/akty_normatywne/regulaminy/kodeks_etyki_nauczyciela_akademickiego_uniwersytetu_gdanskiego

4. Presentation entitled Motivation, commitment, work atmosphere, bullyinghttps://ug.edu.pl/sites/ug.edu.pl/files/_nodes/strona/102984/files/Mobbing%20i%20zaangaowanie%202022%20MB.pdf.

Elżbieta Michalak-Witkowska / Press Office UG