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  • FIRST POST
    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 25th Feb 17, 2:40 PM
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    Euclid
    Employment Tribunal - unfair dismissal - student surveys
    • #1
    • 25th Feb 17, 2:40 PM
    Employment Tribunal - unfair dismissal - student surveys 25th Feb 17 at 2:40 PM
    Hi everyone!
    I was an university lecturer. I have been summary dismissed for "deceitfully manipulating students' feedback on my modules". Those are online surveys where students submit opinion on your teaching a certain subject (module). The "proof" was very technical and questionable so I am not going into details. I refuted it during the investigation, disciplinary hearing and appeal. Nevertheless, the employment law allows employers to make decision on the base of "reasonable belief" and "probability". Just to point out - I have not done it. Those surveys are completely irrelevant to my career and duties; my surveys are usually very good and way above the average; I had no motive whatsoever on top of this.
    I filed a claim at Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal on the base of: "not taking into account mitigating circumstances and consequences for future employee career" and "the action is not within the scope of reasonable responses for such a deed". The Tribunal does not look at the cases in essence, so I can only object the dismissal not clear my name. I have had more than 25 years of spotless career and service and this dismissal terminates my career in the academia as no-one would hire a dismissed person.

    I need some help in the following: has anyone heard that a teacher/lecturer was ever dismissed for falsifying students' surveys? Could you direct me to some specific facts/cases?
    I can't afford a lawyer and have to mainly look at everything by myself.
    To whomever of my colleagues I mention this reason people were just telling me this is a laughable reason - those surveys does not count for anything (let aside I haven't done it).

    Please help.
Page 2
    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 9th Mar 17, 3:20 PM
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    Euclid
    I am lecturer in FE as opposed to HE, but we also have the student surveys and accounts at the end of modules, and I cannot even imagine *how* you could falsify them, let alone why.... do they form part of your KPIs?
    Originally posted by emsywoo123
    They count for nothing; I don't know what KPIs stands for but I guess the answer is - "no".
    The surveys have been set up by the departmental secretary in a very incompetent was, so they need no passwd or anything and multiple entries could be submitted by one and the same person; also they can be submitted via simple add-on by an arbitrary IP address (not the IP address of the actual computer). Everything started when they started redundancy cases for our dept and all of a sudden the "discovered" that in one of my last year surveys I had 69 responses out of 48 students in class ...When secretary looked at IPs it turned out that 48 were submitted by my office IPs (NOT by me!!! though - I am not that stupid to submit myself 48 entries for a class of 48; besides, as I have pointed out my feedback response has been always good as percentage of answers and as opinions)
    • lincroft1710
    • By lincroft1710 9th Mar 17, 3:23 PM
    • 9,489 Posts
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    lincroft1710
    A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving key business objectives. Organisations use KPIs to evaluate their success at reaching targets
    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 9th Mar 17, 3:25 PM
    • 15 Posts
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    Euclid
    Your current predicament suggests this isn't strictly accurate.
    Originally posted by Wayne O Mac
    What I meant was they do not count for promotion, probation - whatever. Most students even don't fill them. Other colleagues get less than 15% responses; quite a few - very negative - still they got promoted without a problem; other get excellent evaluations and no matter of excellent research don't get promotions for years.
    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 9th Mar 17, 3:27 PM
    • 15 Posts
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    Euclid
    A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving key business objectives. Organisations use KPIs to evaluate their success at reaching targets
    Originally posted by lincroft1710
    No, this has been never taken into account in the uni I worked.
    • Undervalued
    • By Undervalued 9th Mar 17, 4:17 PM
    • 3,052 Posts
    • 2,798 Thanks
    Undervalued
    They count for nothing; I don't know what KPIs stands for but I guess the answer is - "no".
    The surveys have been set up by the departmental secretary in a very incompetent was, so they need no passwd or anything and multiple entries could be submitted by one and the same person;
    Originally posted by Euclid
    That is largely irrelevant.

    Your employer asked you to do something and (they claim) you falsified the results.

    Whether the task was worth doing and what value, if any, accurate results would have been is not the point.

    It is a clear breach of trust by somebody who is (presumably) involved in deciding what marks are awarded and whether a student passes or fails.

    As I see it your only hope here is to show that they employer could not properly have had a "reasonable belief" that you falsified the results.
    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 9th Mar 17, 4:17 PM
    • 15 Posts
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    Euclid
    Thank you all for your opinions! They are very useful and gave me some prospects I haven't thought of.
    Sorry to not have officially logged in and respond but I was busy with preparing documentation for the case which with great difficulty I obtained via university information assurance office.

    To clarify some points:
    1. I have been dismissed for gross misconduct without a notice. I was under suspension during the investigation with full pay.
    2. The investigation began 1.5 months before I was notified (which I heard is in itself unlawful).
    3. The investigation officer (IO) was my former head of Department (HoD) with whom I have had bad disagreements and arguments. I and the union rep objected; the Provost also was doubtful for assigning him as IO but HR made some silly defence. They completely neglected minuted objection we made for him being the IO.
    4. Those surveys have been already looked at at the Learning and Teaching Committee immediately after the marks were submitted. No-one have had any comments (including IO who was present).
    5. I was shocked when they presented those multiple surveys spreadsheet as if sent by my office IP as I didn't do it. Most of them (in fact all but 2) lasted "0" sec (?) with all 16 questions answered (in a different way) and comments made (different). I thought initially this was made by a bot or some other bug in the survey site which turned out to be completely unreliable as it not only allowed multiple entries from the same IP but also it allowed to change the content of any entry long after it was submitted without a trace (i.e. the time stamp remains the same). Also the data sheet seemed to be manipulated multiple times and also survey entries (there were emails between IO and IP saying - remove those entries and other comments). The IO objected (I got to know this from data protection) the uni IT to give witness as "this may contradict my conclusions" ...
    6. No other reasonable explanation that I presented (via an IT expert) were taken into account.
    7. From the email correspondence between all parties involved it turned out they were just looking how to dismiss me.
    8. All this took place during the time when our department was under redundancy threat of 25% and only my position was announced to be outside the redundancy pool. So my guess was that IO and HR decided to use these old irrelevant survey results (the 69 answers were at the time dismissed as "obvious" mistake in the system) to get rid of me.
    7. Reference letter so far is not that important to me as I can get references from world-known names in the filed.
    8. When I say that they had ruined my career I mainly meant that as I am 64 no-one would ever hire me on a permanent position. Age discrimination exists after all.
    9. I have taught 5 years in the USA and my evaluations there (hand-written) have always been excellent. I have never cared about my student evaluations as I have always get good ones with sufficient responses. And as I said - they count for nothing.
    10. Uni has been in touch with me through their lawyers and ACAS - they offered me settlement of 1000 and "good" (pending agreed wording) reference which I refused.
    11. Investigation, disciplinary and appeal hearing were pure farce - I had the feeling that I was talking in dead years and it all reminded me Orwell's 1984.
    12. I got 12 character and professional references from all over the globe from world-known specialists and colleagues that I worked with and know me closely and from my pastor - they have been sent directly to the uni but were completely neglected.
    13. I got about 10 letters in my support from my former students (hence not anymore "dependant" on me) in my support describing in details my excellent teaching and pastoral support.
    14. All my colleagues in the department (including the present HoD) sympathise but they are still under redundancy threat (the department has been in "monitoring" state since the "pause" in consultations; fear is present all across the uni because of these ridiculous redundancy politics (for example they are closing units which bring surplus and hiring lots of administration - but that's another topic). Hence I can't even thing of asking their open support.

    I will appreciate further advise and sorry for not responding earlier.
    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 9th Mar 17, 4:20 PM
    • 15 Posts
    • 1 Thanks
    Euclid
    All exams are triple marked ... I have never had any problem with my marks being questioned.
    • Undervalued
    • By Undervalued 9th Mar 17, 4:21 PM
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    Undervalued
    I will appreciate further advise and sorry for not responding earlier.
    Originally posted by Euclid
    Your long post was submitted at the same time as my rather shorter one just above.

    However my opinion remains firmly that you must show why the employer could not have had a reasonable belief that you falsified the results of the student feedback.

    Anything else is a smokescreen.
    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 15th Mar 17, 1:59 PM
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    Euclid
    How can I "prove" that could not have had a reasonable belief ? What counts for "proof"?
    • Undervalued
    • By Undervalued 15th Mar 17, 5:51 PM
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    • 2,798 Thanks
    Undervalued
    How can I "prove" that could not have had a reasonable belief ? What counts for "proof"?
    Originally posted by Euclid
    It is not proof in a civil case / tribunal, it is balance of probabilities. They would need to have conducted a reasonable investigation (not a detailed forensic one) in a fair and open minded way that reasonably led them to believe, on the balance of probabilities (i.e 51%), that you committed this misconduct.

    If they did that then it is considered fair in law even if they were wrong.

    So you need to show that they fell short of that.
    • happyandcontented
    • By happyandcontented 15th Mar 17, 6:10 PM
    • 683 Posts
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    happyandcontented
    Did the IT expert have a theory re the timings of the input?
    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 15th Mar 17, 9:47 PM
    • 15 Posts
    • 1 Thanks
    Euclid
    Either submitted by bot or flawed software. He was incline to the second as there were many flaws and inaccuracies in the software how it was designed. We rang the helpline several times and they provided some very incompetent responses - for example slow internet connection and repeatedly hit "enter" but it does not fit with the fact that all responses were different.
    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 15th Mar 17, 9:52 PM
    • 15 Posts
    • 1 Thanks
    Euclid
    Did the IT expert have a theory re the timings of the input?
    Originally posted by happyandcontented
    It is not proof in a civil case / tribunal, it is balance of probabilities. They would need to have conducted a reasonable investigation (not a detailed forensic one) in a fair and open minded way that reasonably led them to believe, on the balance of probabilities (i.e 51%), that you committed this misconduct.

    If they did that then it is considered fair in law even if they were wrong.

    So you need to show that they fell short of that.
    Originally posted by Undervalued
    "Open minded" was missing during the whole investigation and disciplinary hearings; they dismissed other obvious lines of investigations who in fact did it; they were concentrated (IO mainly) that it was me who was the culprit; even at some point he explicitly required Uni IT not to give evidence as it will contradict his "findings" ...
    • FBaby
    • By FBaby 16th Mar 17, 6:27 AM
    • 15,713 Posts
    • 39,330 Thanks
    FBaby
    He was incline to the second as there were many flaws and inaccuracies in the software how it was designed
    Do you mean as a one off? Because an innacuracy in the design of the software should have affected everyone, not you, as assume everyone is using the same software?

    Also, could it be that 0s is anything under 1mn and their argument is that it would only take a few seconds to make any amendments?

    The problem is as you've started, if their aim was to get you out, rather than picking up a genuine mistake wishing you hadn't made it so they wouldn't have to consider dismissing you, unless you can indeed prove that all this was orchestrated to get rid of you and that their evidence was nowhere near 51% convincing enough that you made an error, you really don't have a defense. The legal system does not judge unfairness in that regards, only flaws in procedures and not adhering to legal requirements, which you would most likely struggle to prove.
    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 16th Mar 17, 11:31 AM
    • 15 Posts
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    Euclid
    It is not "on-off" - just it was discovered by my IT's when this happened. Smartsurvey accepted this software problem; the bugs and everything. But they refuse to give a written statement. I made my own test surveys and got the same problem (but knowing what to do in order to get them).

    The software measures any sec - so there are surveys done in 1 sec; my fastest time (and my IT's) was 3 sec.

    I think that when this started no-one suspected this to be a problem with the smartsurvey software. They just assumed (and wanted it to me) it was me.
    Also - as I mentioned - there is a simple Mozilla (and surely other browsers) add-on which allow "spoofing" the IP - i.e. you change your PC IP to whatever you want and when you fill the survey this fake IP appear in the answer as if submitted by the corresponding PC.
    I leave my office PC always on because the system is very slow and takes 10 min to start which I don't always have; my previous tabs get lost etc.
    So if someone spoofed my office IP (this is not difficult because it is shown in any email header) they can submit an entry as if from my PC (i.e. with the IP address of my PC).

    The law allows ruling unfair dismissal if the "evidence" is flawed which is. There are procedural mistakes also which I will bring up. Also not taking into account my spotless and exemplary service and my international reputation as an expert (being invited speaker on several conferences - recent; giving talks in Oxford; doing tons of work in the uni too) is in itself enough to make dismissal unfair.
    • Undervalued
    • By Undervalued 16th Mar 17, 11:55 AM
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    Undervalued
    It is not "on-off" - just it was discovered by my IT's when this happened. Smartsurvey accepted this software problem; the bugs and everything. But they refuse to give a written statement. I made my own test surveys and got the same problem (but knowing what to do in order to get them).

    The software measures any sec - so there are surveys done in 1 sec; my fastest time (and my IT's) was 3 sec.

    I think that when this started no-one suspected this to be a problem with the smartsurvey software. They just assumed (and wanted it to me) it was me.
    Also - as I mentioned - there is a simple Mozilla (and surely other browsers) add-on which allow "spoofing" the IP - i.e. you change your PC IP to whatever you want and when you fill the survey this fake IP appear in the answer as if submitted by the corresponding PC.
    I leave my office PC always on because the system is very slow and takes 10 min to start which I don't always have; my previous tabs get lost etc.
    So if someone spoofed my office IP (this is not difficult because it is shown in any email header) they can submit an entry as if from my PC (i.e. with the IP address of my PC).

    The law allows ruling unfair dismissal if the "evidence" is flawed which is. There are procedural mistakes also which I will bring up. Also not taking into account my spotless and exemplary service and my international reputation as an expert (being invited speaker on several conferences - recent; giving talks in Oxford; doing tons of work in the uni too) is in itself enough to make dismissal unfair.
    Originally posted by Euclid
    Sorry but no, it is not!

    As has been pointed out repeatedly, if the employer had reasonable grounds to believe that the misconduct took place then I have no doubt at all that dismissal is within the range of responses an employer may take. It may well be on the harsh side but that does not make it legally unfair. It is not up to a tribunal to substitute their judgement for the employer's.

    You need to get some professional advice if you are intending to fight this agains a well resourced employer.
    • lulu650
    • By lulu650 18th Mar 17, 1:15 PM
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    lulu650
    Out of interest OP, did you go to appeal? It is best to exhaust all internal procedures before going to an ET.

    Can you account for your whereabouts when these surveys were submitted? Apologies if I've missed this somewhere
    Saving money right, left and centre
    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 18th Mar 17, 4:48 PM
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    Euclid
    Yes, I went to appeal - it was a farce - they didn't discussed any of the ground I was appealing for and just repeated their "arguments".

    It doesn't matter where I have been when the surveys were submitted - of course I don't remember as this was more than a year ago.
    The problem is that my office computer was always on and whoever submitted it with "spoofing" my office IP address could have done it at any time - first making sure my office PC is on (by "ping"ing it).
    For the more problematic survey I remember I had at some point a meeting with the HoD, then I was around on campus, and surely was at some time in my office.
    My location is irrelevant as I know I haven't done it, so the only option was by either "spoofing" my office IP address or just even doing it using my username and ID (unfortunately when teaching I inadvertently type my password in the username field so it was visible to more than 200 students).
    • jobbingmusician
    • By jobbingmusician 18th Mar 17, 5:16 PM
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    jobbingmusician
    Let's be very clear. The point at issue is NOT whether you did it or not. A tribunal will hinge upon only the following questions.

    1. Did the employer follow their own procedures? You have not said anything so far which demonstrates that they did not.

    2. Were these procedures fair/ did they follow ACAS guidelines? You have not said anything so far which demonstrates that they were/did not.

    3. Would an employer have reasonable grounds to believe that you committed the act of which you were accused?

    Number 3 seems to me the only grounds for tribunal. You have stated that the Smartsurvey software faults mean that someone else could have committed this act, and if I understand correctly there are also very suspicious timings in the submissions of the queried surveys.

    If my understanding is correct so far, then the only way forward seems to be a witness order forcing Smartsurvey to support your case. You are simply wasting energy looking at other (possible) minor transgressions on the part of your employer. You need to demonstrate that the survey software was faulty AND THAT YOU EXPLAINED THIS TO YOUR EMPLOYERS. If you have NOT explained the faulty software to your employers, then of course it is reasonable for them to assume it works correctly and thus you are guilty as charged.....
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    • Euclid
    • By Euclid 18th Mar 17, 9:18 PM
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    Euclid
    Yes, I have demonstrated that the smartsurvey software is faulty. Order forcing Smartsurvey is not possible as they are an USA situated firm and my employer used the free option (i.e. not a business account). My employer neglected the facts, as the only thing they were interesting in was firing me.

    They in parts followed ACAS code of conduct but the weakest point was that they appointed a biased (i.e. no impartial) investigation officer (this is against ACAS guidelines) and also they did not follow ACAS guidelines about taking into account mitigating factor and all that has to be taken into account when making the decision. In fact the whole case was orchestrated by HR (there was a court case about in-proper intervention of HR - this fully applies to my case as they literary dictated the whole process up to specific responses). So, I have serious objections that should be taken into account in a court apart from 3.
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