NRC Research and Scientific Integrity Policy Directive - Breaches of research and scientific integrity

 

Quality management system (QMS) information

Document type
Directive
Area of management
Corporate Secretariat
 
Original date of issue
To be issued
Status
Final
Effective date
2021-08-12
Review frequency
Every 3 years as required
Date of last review
2021-08-12
 

Authority

Approval
Secretary General
SEC has issued the governing policy, and this directive aligns within the authority of that policy.
Accountability
Director, Corporate Secretariat
and Senior Ethics Officer
The Executive Director, Corporate Secretariat and Senior Ethics Officer has the accountability for adherence to the policy via the directive.
Ombud and manager, Ethics,
Integrity and Respectful Workplace

The Ombud and manager has the responsibility to ensure consistent application and operational execution of the directive at the procedural level.

Enquiries:
Karine Gauvreau
Karine.Gauvreau@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

 

1. General direction

The directive replaces the Interim Guidelines on Breaches of Research and Scientific Integrity (2018).

The directive is issued pursuant to the National Research Council Policy on Research and Scientific Integrity (RSIP) 2018.

1.1 Context

The directive is pursuant to the provisions of the above cited Policy that require the establishment and maintenance of a fair, impartial, efficient, confidential and respectful process to address breaches of the Policy and the principles of research and scientific integrity as outlined therein.

The NRC Senior Ethics Officer is responsible for ensuring that the process for addressing allegations of breaches of the NRC RSIP is carried out in accordance with the process set out below.

1.2 Objectives and expected results

The objective of this directive is to support the implementation of the NRC RSIP and to foster a culture of research and science integrity by outlining the process for addressing allegations of research and scientific misconduct, as well as other breaches of the Policy, and to achieve the following expected results:

  • That NRC employees are informed of the procedures available to them for bringing forward allegations of breaches of research and scientific integrity;
  • That NRC employees report in good faith any information pertaining to possible breaches of research and scientific integrity;
  • That NRC protects personal information and otherwise provides the safeguards necessary to ensure employees can bring forward allegations or related information without prejudice or fear of reprisal;
  • That NRC employees are informed of the process by which allegations are assessed and investigated and cooperate fully in this process;
  • That allegations of breaches of the NRC RSIP are handled fairly, impartially, efficiently, confidentially and respectfully; and
  • That appropriate steps are taken to restore the well-being of the workplace after such an allegation has been addressed.

1.3 Application

The directive applies to all NRC employees and other people workingFootnote 1 for the NRC as defined in the RSIP.

1.4 Roles and responsibilities

Chief Science Officer and Departmental Science Advisor
The NRC Chief Science Officer, who also has the role of the Departmental Science Advisor, will provide advice and guidance on NRC policies, procedures and common practices relating to the investigation.

Expert advisor
The expert advisor is an individual internal or external to the NRC with expert knowledge of the field central to the allegation and will provide support from a scientific perspective. The expert advisor will be determined on a case by case basis in consultation with the corresponding NRC senior management.

Investigation panel
Composed of the Chief Science Officer, expert advisor and the senior advisor. The panel will support the investigator, as required, with matters relating, but not limited, to NRC policies, practices, procedures, scientific and technical expertise, etc.

Investigator
Appointed by the Senior Ethics Officer, the investigator is responsible for conducting the investigation process and reporting the findings.

Respondent
A person who has allegedly breached the NRC RSIP.

Senior advisor
The NRC senior advisor, Research and Scientific Ethics and Integrity, supports the Senior Ethics Officer and the investigator throughout the assessment and investigation process.

Senior Ethics Officer
Authority for reviewing and investigating allegations of breaches of the NRC RSIP. The Senior Ethics Officer has been delegated by the President of the NRC to address allegations of breaches and ensures that they are promptly and thoroughly reviewed and investigated.

Source
A person who submits an allegation of breach of the NRC RSIP.

2. Breaches of research and scientific integrity

A breach of research and scientific integrity is behaviour(s) or action(s) by an NRC employee or group of employees that could reasonably be construed as inconsistent with or violating one or more of the principles of research and scientific integrity as described in s. 6 (Research and Scientific integrity principles) of the NRC RSIP.

Breaches may be of two types:

  • Research and scientific misconduct: actions or behaviour of researchers, scientists, or any other employee or group of employees that could reasonably be construed as inconsistent with or violating sections 7.3.3, 7.4.2 – 7.4.4, 7.4.9, 7.5.1 – 7.5.3, 7.5.6 or 7.8 of the NRC RSIP.
  • Breaches by management: actions or behaviour of managers, supervisors or other personnel that could reasonably be construed as inconsistent with or violating sections 7.3.3, 7.3.4, 7.4.6, 7.4.7, 7.5.4, or 7.5.7 of the NRC RSIP.

Breaches may be committed with varying degrees of intent. It is recognized that the borderline between incompetence, carelessness, and negligence, on the one hand, and intentional misconduct, on the other, may be narrow. The result is a breach in any case, although the degree of intent may be a mitigating factor in determining appropriate corrective measures.

3. Allegations

An allegation of a breach of the NRC RSIP may come from various sources inside or outside the NRC. For example, an allegation may come from an NRC employee, a non-NRC collaborator, a member of the general public, a media report, or an anonymous source. Allegations of a breach can be brought against NRC employees and other people working for the NRC, over which NRC has responsibility and authority. Allegations should be transmitted verbally or in writing to the NRC Senior Ethics Officer and must contain (a) the name of the respondent; (b) the date(s) of the occurrence; and (c) a detailed description of the occurrence.

The ability of the NRC to assess and investigate an allegation may be hampered if it is from an anonymous source, or if an allegation is not made in writing. In some cases the NRC may be unable to proceed with the process but the allegation will be addressed in accordance with the spirit and intent of this Directive.  If allegations are brought against persons, over which NRC does not have responsibility and authority, the NRC will engage the external institutions and organisations, as required, to investigate the matter.

If an allegation of a breach of the NRC RSIP is submitted as a complaint under another Government of Canada or NRC legislation, directive, policy, regulatory or statutory requirement, a collective agreement, or is submitted under the NRC RSIP but falls primarily under one of these other processes, the other process shall take precedence. If it is found that the complaint is submitted under the inappropriate recourse mechanism, it may be re-assessed by the Senior Ethics Officer under the NRC RSIP if appropriate.

4. Process for submission of an allegation

Typical timelines for the process to address allegations of breaches of the NRC RSIP are provided in Appendix A. Under exceptional circumstances, the Senior Ethics Officer can extend the timeframe; where this will significantly impact the process, the parties will be advised.

4.1 Prior to a submission of an allegation

  • When an employee, at any level, believes that there has been a breach of the NRC RSIP, the employee (“the source”) is encouraged, if they feel safe, to discuss and resolve this matter directly with the subject of the allegation (“the respondent”), with their own immediate supervisor, or with the subject’s immediate supervisor.
  • Any time prior to the submission of a verbal or written allegation to the Senior Ethics Officer, employees or managers may contact the NRC Ombud, Ethics, Integrity and Respectful Workplace, the Senior Ethics Officer, or their bargaining agents to confidentially discuss informal conflict resolution services and options.
  • Should these actions resolve the issue, the matter can be considered closed. If the issue is not resolved by informal mechanisms, the allegation should be submitted to the Senior Ethics Officer.

4.2 Reception of an allegation

  • When an allegation is submitted, verbally or in writing, to the Senior Ethics Officer, the Senior Ethics Officer will acknowledge receipt of the allegation in writing to the individual who submitted the allegation (“the source”).
  • The Senior Ethics Officer will then determine if the alleged breach involves other policies or processes, other than the NRC RSIP. If so, the allegation will be forwarded to the appropriate process owner and the source will be informed of the transfer of responsibility for the allegation. If it is found that the allegation is submitted under the inappropriate recourse mechanism, it may be re-assessed by the Senior Ethics Officer under the NRC RSIP if appropriate.
  • The Senior Ethics Officer will determine if an allegation falls under the NRC RSIP and whether an investigation is warranted and appoint an investigator accordingly.
  • The Senior Ethics Officer will consult, as necessary, the investigation panel during the assessment and/or the investigation process and may also seek support, as required, from NRC Legal Services or others.
  • The Senior Ethics Officer will encourage employees to engage with their bargaining agents.
  • Prior to initiating an investigation, the Senior Ethics Officer will advise the responsible Vice-President of the matter. The Vice-President, in consultation with the responsible CBI management, will determine whether research activities should be suspended or not, should the allegations relate to an active project or program.
  • When the alleged breach falls under the RSIP and an investigation is pursued, if the relevant work was ever supported by funding or collaboration from any organization external to the NRC (i.e. an agency, client or collaborator) that requires reports of research or scientific misconduct, the Senior Ethics Officer must, before the investigation begins, notify that organization. The notification would indicate that the NRC is conducting a review into an allegation of research or scientific misconduct and that the results of this review will be communicated when available. If the external organization has no stated requirement for notification about reports of research or scientific misconduct, the Senior Ethics Officer should consider whether notification would nevertheless be appropriate at an early stage. If a notice is sent, the Senior Ethics Officer should indicate that appropriate interim administrative actions are being taken to protect the external interests and to ensure that the purposes of the external body's assistance are being carried out.

4.3 Investigation principles

Procedural fairness

The investigation process under the NRC RSIP is administrative in nature. The investigation must follow the principles of procedural fairness. Investigators who are responsible for investigating alleged breaches must adhere to these principles by behaving fairly and equitably towards all of parties involved at every step of the process. The importance of procedural fairness is unquestionable and is as follows:

  • The right to be informed of the allegation(s): The respondent has the right to know the totality of the allegation(s) made by the source and must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to respond to them. It is generally the role of the person responsible for managing the process to notify the accused party of the allegations at the outset by providing him or her with a copy of the allegations and an opportunity to respond within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Investigator must be impartial: The parties have the right to an impartial investigator. Investigators must be impartial, neutral third parties with no interest or stake in the case or its outcome. It is imperative that their skills be exercised impartially and independently. The investigator named by the Senior Ethics Officer will always conduct themselves in an impartial manner.
  • The right to be heard and to present evidence: The parties must be afforded the opportunity to present their version of the facts, identify witnesses and submit documentary evidence (documents, data, electronic files, photographs, etc.). Any evidence that confirms or refutes incidents related to the allegations should be admitted as evidence. It is then up to the investigator to decide whether the evidence submitted is relevant.
  • The right to be accompanied: The parties may be accompanied by someone during the investigation. This person may select a bargaining agent representative, a spouse, a friend, etc. as long as the person does not interfere with the process and that there is no possibility that they could be asked to become a witness during the process. This person does not represent the party, but is there to assist and support.
  • The right to review statements to confirm their accuracy: Every person who is a witness in the investigation should have access to their statements to verify their accuracy. To ensure this, the investigator should ask the witness to sign and date their statement, before the preliminary summary of facts is written and disclosed to the parties.
  • The right to access and rebut the findings: The parties must be afforded an opportunity to review the statements of the other party and witnesses through the preliminary summary of facts. This document is limited to reporting the facts as gathered by the investigator. This summary is disclosed to the parties, who have a reasonable opportunity to rebut, comment on or correct the information relied on by the Investigator before completing the analysis and making the findings in the final report.
  • Burden of proof: In resolving policy breaches through administrative investigations, the parties must be treated with dignity and respect. The allegations are simply that - allegations. Directly or indirectly, the source must establish to the investigator that a breach did, according to the balance of probability (the civil standard of proof that an incident was more likely to have occurred than not), occur. Until that happens, it must be assumed that the breach did not occur.

4.4 Investigation proces

At each stage of the investigation process, the Senior Ethics Officer may decide not to pursue the investigation process further if developments make this decision appropriate. For example, if the respondent admits misconduct, and if sufficient information has been provided to determine appropriate action(s) are warranted, it may not be necessary to proceed with a full investigation.

4.4.1. Initiation of investigation

The Senior Ethics Officer will appoint an investigator and will notify the parties (source and respondent) and the responsible Vice-President of the initiation of the investigation.

In the notification the respondent will be provided a copy of the allegation(s) (vetted by the NRC Access to Information and Privacy Office) and an outline of the investigation process. The respondent will be invited to respond in writing to the allegation and identify any relevant information that should be considered, including any individuals who should be interviewed.

The source and the respondent will be provided an opportunity to identify any concerns or conflicts of interest regarding the selected investigator and any expert advisor identified.

The investigator will be supported by the Senior Advisor and will consult the Senior Ethics Officer, the Chief Science Officer and the expert advisor(s) as required during the investigation.

4.4.2. Investigation

The investigator, supported by the investigation panel, will assess the evidence related to the allegation and will report the findings, in a written report, to the Senior Ethics Officer (see section 4.4 for investigation process).

The investigator will evaluate the allegation, the response, and any other preliminary evidence provided to determine the scope of the investigation and prepare the investigation plan which will include the following elements: definition of the subject/issues; required elements for determining a breach of the NRC RSIP; key areas of inquiry; data, documents, and other information to be examined; and witnesses to be interviewed.

The investigation plan will be presented to the Senior Ethics Officer, and as required, in consultation with the investigation panel, will identify, if necessary, any other information or evidence to be collected, including any additional witnesses to be interviewed.

The investigator will lead the conduct of the investigation as outlined in the investigation plan. All parties and witnesses will have the opportunity to be heard. Interviews will be conducted in a fair, impartial and professional manner, respecting the principles of procedural fairness.

Interviews of the 2 parties (source and respondent) and witnesses may be conducted with the support of the investigation panel, as necessary.

Once all evidence has been gathered, the investigator will prepare a preliminary summary of facts, setting out the substance of the relevant issues and related evidence. The summary is restricted to presenting the allegations, issues and facts only. Its purpose is to provide an objective and logical description of the relevant information that has been gathered.

The preliminary summary of facts will be reviewed by the NRC ATIP Office, to ensure compliance with the Privacy Act and will then be distributed to the parties (source and respondent) for their review and comment. Once the parties have had an opportunity to review and comment on the preliminary summary of facts, the investigator will finalize the investigation report.

The investigator will review the allegations in detail and examine the evidence in depth, leading to conclusions and a finding of whether a breach of the NRC RSIP has occurred and to what extent.

The investigator will submit a final report to the Senior Ethics Officer. Should the investigator’s findings and conclusions determine a breach of the NRC RSIP, the report will identify whether, on the balance of probability, the breach was committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly, or was rather the result of honest errors or differences of opinion.

The investigation report may include general recommendations to management in order to resolve the matter but the report will not include specific recommendations on corrective actions related to research or scientific activities or disciplinary measures.

4.4.3 Rendering a decision

The Senior Ethics Officer will receive the final report prepared by the investigator and on the basis of the report will decide (a) if they accept the findings of the report; and (b) on subsequent recommended follow-up actions by management (in consultation with management and with human resources, as required), if any. The final investigation report will be reviewed by the NRC ATIP Office, to ensure compliance with the Privacy Act.

If the Senior Ethics Officer finds that the allegations are unfounded, the Senior Ethics Officer shall ensure that (a) all parties involved in the investigation process are advised that the matter has been concluded; and (b) the respondent is provided with a copy of the final investigation report with a formal written statement to the effect that an allegation was made, a review process was established, that the allegations were unfounded and that no further action will be taken.

If the allegations are unfounded and the person(s) exonerated of an allegation of research misconduct request(s) assistance in restoring their reputation, the senior advisor will, when requested, send identical, formal letters from the NRC to appropriate concerned parties internal or external to the NRC.

If the Senior Ethics Officer finds that one or more allegations are founded or partially founded, the Senior Ethics Officer shall provide the respondent with a letter which explicitly states (a) which allegation(s) has/have been founded or partially founded; (b) the reason(s) for this/these determinations; and (c) any next steps that will be undertaken by management, along with a copy of the final investigation report. A copy of this letter and the final investigation report will be provided to the responsible Vice-President, and will be shared with the responsible CBI management.

If an external organization was notified of the allegations (under section 4.2), the Senior Ethics Officer will advise the organization as to whether the allegations were founded, partially founded or unfounded. A copy of this communication will be provided to the responsible Vice-President.

The Senior Ethics Officer will provide the source with a letter which explicitly states: (a) which allegation(s) has/have been founded or partially founded; and (b) the reason(s) for this/these determinations.

4.4.4. Information management

Files are kept by the NRC Corporate Secretariat in accordance with standard NRC information management practices and files are managed according to the "need-to-know" principle.

4.5 Appeals

Employees may grieve the results of the Research and Scientific Integrity breach conclusion in accordance with the Grievance Procedure detailed in Section 5.8 of NRC’s Human Resources Manual. Grievances relating to Research and Scientific Integrity Policy breaches will be heard at the final grievance level.

5. Restoring the workplace

The investigation of an alleged breach of research and scientific integrity can be difficult and stressful for all parties involved and may have an impact on other colleagues. Regardless of the outcome of the formal process, further action may be needed by management to ensure that positive and respectful working relationships are restored in the work unit. The responsible manager with the Senior Ethics Officer will determine the need to develop a plan to restore the workplace. This may be accomplished with the input of all parties involved and may require the assistance of the NRC Ombud, the NRC Informal Conflict Resolution team for services such as mediation and coaching, as well as the support of the bargaining agents, human resources, and management to re-establish trust, improve communication and encourage positive working relations. Any other actions necessary to restore the reputation of the NRC and its employees will be considered, as appropriate.

6. Related NRC policy

7. References

  • NRC Code of conduct (2013), including the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector

Appendix A

Typical timelines for the process to address allegations of breaches of the NRC RSIP. Under exceptional circumstances, the Senior Ethics Officer can extend the timeframe; where this will significantly impact the process, the parties will be advised.

  All References are to Working Days
Initiation of investigation 40
Appointment of the investigator 20
Period of response to the allegation by the respondent 10
Period of identification of concerns or conflicts of interest by the source and respondent 10
Investigation 65
Investigation plan presented to the Senior Ethics Officer by the investigator 10
Preliminary summary of facts prepared by the investigator 30
Period of comments on the preliminary summary of facts by the source and respondent 10
Final report submitted to the Senior Ethics Officer by the investigator 15
Rendering a decision 20
Period of decision by Senior Ethics Officer 10
Communication of the investigation conclusion by the Senior Ethics Officer 10