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September 14, 2017

Staff Council Hosts Human Resources’ Employee and Labor Relations for Panel, Q&A Forum

Members from the Office of Human Resources’ Employee and Labor Relations (ELR) group held a “town hall” meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 5, as a way for staff members to get to know the team and its role in serving Pitt employees.

The event, hosted by Staff Council, was also a chance to ask questions. The forum included a panel of four Employee and Labor Relations representatives and was hosted by Robert W. Hartman, assistant vice chancellor for Employee and Labor Relations and the ELR team.

“Primarily, we’re about conflict management,” said Hartman. “There’s a whole bunch of different flavors that can take, but by and large, Employee and Labor Relations is here to solve problems in the workplace — to find out the root causes and do what we can so that everybody is able to work in the type of working environment our employees deserve.” The goal, he said, is to make sure that Pitt is a place where people look forward to coming to work.

To that end, an employee engagement survey will be released to all staff members across all campuses near the end of October. The anonymized results from the first University-wide staff survey will serve as a benchmark to help guide new goals and initiatives for Employee and Labor Relations, and for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to improve the staff experience.

Questions from town hall forum attendees drove many of the presentation’s key points; summaries of the most important questions and answers are included below.

How does the Employee and Labor Relations team serve such a big University? Is there much interaction between Employee and Labor Relations and other departmental HR personnel?

Individual departments with HR procedures of their own frequently conduct climate surveys and manage exit interviews. Employee and Labor Relations’ upcoming University-wide engagement survey in October will gauge broader perspectives to develop new initiatives that further the Plan for Pitt. Cheryl Johnson, vice chancellor for Human Resources, is committed to listening to feedback, and evaluating ways to optimize existing models. “The more you reach out to us, the better we can make the case that we need more people,” added Tenecia Ross, a labor relations specialist on the panel.

Is there a hierarchy or chain of command for resolving problems before reaching out to Employee and Labor Relations?

It’s always helpful to make sure supervisors are aware of the problem at hand, but there isn’t a mandate to talk with a supervisor before contacting ELR. See HR’s staff handbook for more information on general inquiries and filing informal and formal complaints.

What are best practices to prevent or anticipate workplace conflicts?

The panel advised that employees try to be as sensitive and mindful of all interests as possible. Document all conversations with colleagues that support whatever issues are being worked on. Many conflicts can be resolved internally even before they become conflicts, but the sooner Employee and Labor Relations becomes aware of a problem, the more opportunity there will be to address the core issues. 

How are conflicts between staff and faculty handled?

Employee and Labor Relations is a core resource for staff members, but will also advise faculty on how to manage their staff. Conflicts between faculty and staff will typically involve the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to ensure the whole problem is addressed. Professional development trainings and other resources for managers can be found on the HR website, and the ELR team is available to help at any time.

How do you protect staff from retaliation in a dispute with a faculty member?

“We take retaliation very, very seriously,” said Hartman. “It really goes to the core of why we exist.” The Employee and Labor Relations team works to protect anonymity, being as minimally disruptive as possible. There are certain circumstances where more detail is needed in order to fully investigate a problem, however. Every conflict interview closes with a written statement on the University’s retaliation policy.

Is a performance improvement plan just a slow road to being fired?

No, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise, either. A supervisor has a responsibility to document conversations, provide feedback and meet with an employee before discussing a performance improvement plan. A plan should have actionable, measurable, specific goals. In cases where disciplinary action is merited, more information on those procedures can be found in the staff handbook.

What else does Employee and Labor Relations handle?

The ELR team is involved with a number of projects, including coordinating benefits and payment matters; leaves of absence; negotiating, administering and interpreting collective bargaining agreements; managing job classifications and proactively assisting Pitt employees with professional trainings and policies outlined in the staff handbook. Visit the ELR website for more information.

What’s the best way to get in touch?

The office can be reached at 412-624-4645 or via email at Individual contact information can be found in the HR staff directory.


To learn more about the Staff Council and other brown bag lunch forums like this one, subscribe to their newsletter, or contact Staff Council directly with questions.


Micaela Fox Corn,, 412-624-4065


Filed under: Feature,Volume 50 Issue 2

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