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Guideline 18

Complainants and respondents

The responsible bodies at HEIs and non-HEI research institutions (normally ombudspersons and investigating committees) examining allegations of misconduct take appropriate measures to protect both the complainant and the respondent. The investigation of allegations of research misconduct must be carried out in strict confidentiality and adhere to the presumption of innocence. The information disclosed by the complainant must be provided in good faith. Knowingly false or malicious allegations may themselves constitute misconduct. The disclosure should not disadvantage the research or professional career prospects of either the complainant or the respondent.


Particularly in the case of early career researchers, the disclosure should not lead to delays in the complainant’s own qualification phase and no disadvantage should arise to the writing of final dissertations or doctoral theses; the same applies to working conditions and possible contract extensions.

The investigating body will respect the presumption of innocence vis-à-vis the respondent at each stage of the process when considering each case. The respondent should not experience any disadvantage resulting from the investigation of the allegation until such time as research misconduct has been formally established. The complainant must have objective reasons for suspecting that an infringement of the standards of good research practice may have occurred.

If the complainant is unable to verify the facts personally, or if there is uncertainty with regard to the interpretation of the guidelines on good research practice in relation to an observed set of circumstances, the complainant should consult the local ombudsperson or the German Research Ombudsman to clarify the suspicion.
HEIs and non-HEI research institutions are responsible for deciding whether to investigate anonymous allegations. Disclosures made anonymously can only be investigated if the complainant provides the party investigating the allegation with solid and sufficiently concrete facts. If the complainant’s identity is known, the investigating body will keep the individual’s name confidential and will not share it with third parties without the individual’s consent. Different requirements apply only if there is a legal obligation or if the respondent cannot otherwise properly defend himself or herself because, as an exception, the case concerns the identity of the complainant. The investigating body will promptly inform the complainant if his or her name is to be disclosed; the complainant can decide whether to withdraw the allegation due to the impending disclosure. The confidentiality of the process is limited if the complainant makes his or her suspicion public. The investigating body will decide on a case-by-case basis how to handle the breach of confidentiality on the part of the complainant. Should research misconduct not be proven, the complainant must continue to be protected, assuming that the allegations cannot be shown to have been made against his or her better knowledge.

Further links for complainants and respondents

Disclaimer: The selection of links provided here does not claim to be exhaustive. They are examples. The editors welcome suggestions for the inclusion of further examples.

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GL18 (Link list)