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Close Personal Relationships Policy

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Section 1 - Purpose

(1) The purpose of this Policy is to:

  1. outline the University’s values and expectations regarding the nature of the relationships that may occur between individuals;
  2. provide clarity on the types of relationships that are acceptable, those which require declaration, and those which are prohibited; and
  3. outline the process to manage and disclose relationships and the potential consequences of prohibited or undisclosed relationships.
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Section 2 - Application & Scope - Exclusions or Special Conditions

(2) This Policy applies to all staff and affiliates. It relates to relationships between staff and students, and between staff members.

(3) This Policy does not apply to staff employed by:

  1. other entities controlled by the University; and 
  2. campuses of the University outside Australia.

(4) This Policy does not apply to relationships solely between students, unless the student is also a staff member or affiliate.

(5) This Policy should be read in conjunction with the University Code of Conduct and the Conflict of Interest Policy.

(6) Matters not under the scope of this policy may be covered under other policy documents such as (but not limited to) the Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy, Sexual Harm Response Policy, Bullying Prevention Policy, and the Child Protection Policy.

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Section 3 -  Policy Principles

(7) The University regards appropriate professional relationships between staff and/or between staff and students as central to a collegiate environment and encourages the existence of appropriate relationships.

(8) Staff, affiliates, and students are encouraged to appropriately interact with each other to further their professional and study objectives.

(9) For the purposes of this Policy, the following relationships have defined meanings (see definitions at the end of this Policy):

  1. professional relationships;
  2. close personal relationships;
  3. intimate relationships;
  4. close family relationships; and
  5. cultural or kinship relationships.

(10) The University accepts that, among a community of adults and subject to relevant law, personal and/or intimate relationships may exist or develop.

(11) The University acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have interconnected communities and relationships.

(12) Due to inherent power imbalances and perceptions, personal relationships between staff and students can be problematic, especially if there is a direct professional contact. Staff are encouraged to carefully consider and exercise sound judgement in any personal interactions with students.

(13) Staff are strongly discouraged from making contact outside of the scope of their professional relationship with a student with whom they have a supervisory relationship. This includes all methods of contact, including direct contact, phone contact, email contact and social media contact.

(14) Certain personal and intimate relationships are prohibited due to actual, perceived or potential inequalities of power and/or a significant risk of conflicts of interest. Such relationships are not consistent with the University’s values and may breach relevant policies.

(15) Breach of this Policy may constitute a breach of the University Code of Conduct, and/or a range of other employment/contractual obligations; and could lead to serious disciplinary action including, but not limited to, termination of employment.

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Section 4 - Acceptable Relationships

(16) The following types of relationships are acceptable. There is no requirement to declare these types of relationships:

  1. professional relationships between all members of the University;
  2. close personal relationships between staff/students where there is no direct or indirect professional contact;
  3. close family relationships where there is no direct or indirect professional contact; and
  4. a cultural or kinship relationship within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community where there is no direct or indirect professional contact.
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Section 5 - Declarable Relationships:

(17) The following types of relationships may involve an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest and must be declared. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action against the staff member.

  1. Close personal and/or close family staff/student relationships where there is a direct or indirect professional contact;
  2. close personal relationships between staff where there is a direct or indirect professional contact; and
  3. ongoing intimate or close family relationships between staff where there is a direct or indirect professional contact.

(18) Staff who are found to have engaged in prohibited relationships will face disciplinary action, which may include termination of employment.

(19) The following descriptions of prohibited relationships are not exhaustive, and the omission of a specific instance does not necessarily make such a relationship acceptable:

  1. intimate staff/student relationships when at the time, or in the reasonably foreseeable future, of the relationship the staff member has a direct or indirect professional contact with the student;
  2. any intimate staff/student relationship where the student is under 18 (refer to Child Protection Policy); or
  3. intimate staff/staff or staff/student relationships where there is a significant power imbalance. Consideration should be given to factors such as (but not limited to):
    1. seniority of staff;
    2. reporting lines;
    3. ability to (or perception of ability to) influence career or education outcomes; and/or
    4. potential for particular vulnerabilities to be exploited or seen to be exploited.
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Section 6 - Management of Relationships

(20) The disclosure of such relationship details may constitute private or sensitive information, and if so, will be managed in accordance with the Privacy Policy.

(21) Acceptable relationships do not need to be declared or managed; however, it is the responsibility of all parties to exercise sound judgement and to ensure that the relationship is appropriate.

(22) Declarable relationships must be:

  1. declared by all parties in accordance with the Conflict of Interest Policy;
  2. managed in accordance with the Conflict of Interest Policy; and
  3. in instances where the conflict of interest cannot be managed, it may be necessary for appropriate action to be taken such as resigning from aspects of a role, withdrawing membership of a committee.

(23) Prohibited relationships must be referred to the People and Culture Division for management under the appropriate misconduct instruments (e.g. applicable Enterprise Agreement or Policy Document).

(24) Should a prohibited relationship develop, there may be circumstances in which the parties may elect to take immediate action to alter their circumstances such that the relationship would not be prohibited. (e.g., resignation or ceasing enrolment). In such cases, the staff member should declare the relationship and the steps taken. This may not preclude any processes as described in (23).

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Section 7 - Guidance on how to Declare a Relationship

(25) Staff must declare an actual, potential or perceived conflict as soon as reasonably possible.

(26) If unsure whether a declarable relationship with a student or staff member exists, staff should seek further advice from their manager, supervisor, or People and Culture Business Partner.

(27) Where a declarable relationship exists, staff must complete a Conflict of Interest Declaration Form and follow the instructions outlined on the Conflicts of Interest webpage.

(28) The Head of Unit or Manager will assess the disclosure, with assistance from the appropriate People and Culture Division representative as required, and determine:

  1. whether a conflict of interest (either actual or perceived) exists and:
    1. whether the conflict is remote, requiring no further action other than to be recorded; or
    2. whether the conflict requires a specific strategy to manage the conflict (the Head of Unit or Manager should then recommend strategies to manage the conflict).
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Section 8 - Breach of this Policy

(29) Any breaches of this Policy, particularly the failure to disclose a declarable relationship, will be referred for investigation and potential action under the relevant misconduct policies and in accordance with the applicable Enterprise Agreement or contract.

(30) The University treats any breach of polices or procedures seriously. Staff are encouraged to report concerns of non-compliance to their Manager, Supervisor, or People and Culture Business Partner. (This can be done in a confidential manner without attribution to the staff member reporting such a concern.)

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Section 9 - Roles & Responsibilities

(31) All staff are responsible for declaring actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interests regarding relationships by completing the Conflict of Interest Declaration Form.

(32) Heads of Units/Managers are responsible for reviewing, assessing and recommending appropriate management strategies to mitigate disclosed conflicts of interest regarding relationships from staff and affiliates under their responsibility.

(33) Staff with Band 4 Delegation are responsible for making final decisions in relation to disclosed conflicts of interest and endorsing and/or directing appropriate management strategies regarding close personal relationships.

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Section 10 - Definitions

Term Definition (with examples if required)
Acceptable Relationship Relationships that are acceptable (and encouraged) by the University. Such relationships enrich the collegiate atmosphere, promote positive interactions, and provide personal wellness. They do not impact negatively on other members of the University, nor do they involve any conflict of interest, as defined in this policy.
Affiliate Includes people holding University of Wollongong Honorary Awards as conferred by the University Council, including the awards of Emeritus Professor, Honorary Doctor and University Fellow; people appointed in accordance with the University’s Appointment of Visiting and Honorary Academics Policy; and people engaged by the University as agency staff contractors, volunteers and work experience students.
Close family relationship Refers to a spouse or domestic partner, any dependent parent, parent-in-law, child, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or any parent, parent in-law, sibling, uncle, aunt, cousin, niece, or nephew. It includes step-relations (e.g., stepparents and stepchildren) as well as adoptive relations, and includes all gender diverse and same sex relationships.
Close personal relationship A relationship that extends extensively beyond the bounds/context of the University activity, and would typically include repeated shared activity and/or communications that are conducted outside of work and/or are not work related. May include a close friendship as well as a relationship of enmity. This relationship may give rise to an actual, perceived, or potential conflict of interest.
Conflict of interest A conflict of interest exists where there is a divergence between the individual interests of a staff member or affiliate and their professional obligation to the University, such that an independent observer might reasonably question whether the professional actions or decisions of that person are influenced by their own interests or are for their own benefit. It should be noted that enmity as well as friendship can give rise to perceptions of a conflict of interest and similarly that detriment to a third party can give rise to a conflict of interest just as much as benfit to a third party. A conflict of interest includes an actual, perceived, or potential conflict of interest.
Cultural or kinship relationship Cultural or kinship relationships in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture defined as a blood relationship, family and social connections, or common ancestry.
Declarable relationship Relationships, which, by their nature present real, practical, or perceived challenges to the professional or academic environment but can exist with appropriate declarations and management strategies.
Direct professional contact Contact where the parties directly interact for university matters. This may include, but not be limited to staff activities such as tutoring, lecturing, marking, supervising or mentoring field trips, University Accommodation, support services, advice, counselling services, staff who are involved in misconduct investigation and/or the application of penalties/sanctions, or managerial and/or supervisory relationships.
Indirect professional contact Contact where one party has indirect influence or authority over the outcome of an activity or decision.
Intimate personal relationship A relationship which goes beyond the bounds of a platonic or working relationship, regardless of gender. For example, dating, romantic relationships, financial dependency, which may or may not include sexual activity, but is consensual between individuals. Includes a one-off intimate encounter.
Professional relationship Relationships that are limited to the activities related to the University context such as work-related interactions, lecturing, etc.
Prohibited relationship Relationships which must not occur and are in breach of University Policy.
Staff All people employed by the University including conjoint appointments, whether on continuing, permanent, fixed term, casual, cadet, or traineeship basis.
Student All undergraduate and post-graduate students whether full time or part time students studying on or off campus or online, whether they are currently enrolled in subjects or deferred from their studies. It does not include graduates of the University of Wollongong who are not current students.