What is a grievance?
A grievance is any issue that an employee has in connection with their work. Managing a grievance is not as easy as you’d think. A grievance could be due to conflict with another employee, poor management, bullying, unfavourable treatment, pay, not being allowed time off or workload issues. Occasionally grievances are raised by an employee as a direct result of being subjected to a formal disciplinary process.
How should I manage a grievance?
As an employer, you should have a grievance procedure in place (we recommend that for various reasons relating to efficiency when managing your employees, it is non-contractual). Just as types of grievances can vary hugely in their nature, so can the amount of time needed to resolve them. Some can be quickly sorted out, but others might be far more complex and take a lot more effort.
When managing a grievance, an excellent starting point is the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. It helps employers to understand how they should manage a grievance and the key stages to follow if they find themselves dealing with one. It is not a legal requirement to follow the code. But employers who fail to do so and then go on to lose an employment tribunal claim could face an increase to the liability in respect of an award by up to 25% if it was felt there was an unreasonable failure to comply with the key principles of the code.
Understanding the basics of managing a grievance
Assuming you have a non-contractual procedure in place that takes the ACAS code of practice into account, what steps do you then take if a grievance lands on your desk? If the grievance cannot be dealt with informally or if the employee wishes to raise it formally then this is what must happen:
- Write and invite the employee to a grievance hearing without delay.
- Offer the right to be accompanied – ensure you know who this includes as it is a statutory right.
- Outline the timeframe in place for an employee to propose a new date and time for the grievance meeting if their chosen companion is unavailable for the date and time you are proposing.
- Hold the meeting and allow the employee to state their case. Be alert – quite often what is written down in the initial grievance can turn out to miss some of the key points for clarification. Remember that grievances are usually written at a time of high emotion and that can affect the way they are expressed and understood. Sometimes, simply discussing it with someone who will listen can resolve the issue. The Chair must clarify and agree on the issue(s) which are to be addressed and might require investigation. The Chair will also determine what outcome the employee is seeking and provide a timeframe for a response to be issued.
- If the grievance is complicated it may not be possible to establish a secure timeframe of when an outcome can be provided. Possible factors affecting the time of the investigation include the availability of employees who need to be interviewed and evidence that needs to be gathered. Further, there’s the time to cross-reference witness statements and identify further questions that may need to be asked or evidence to gather. When managing a grievance investigation, it is really important to keep the employee updated as to the stage you are at and as soon as possible provide a date for the outcome to be delivered.
- Be clear if the response will be written or in the form of a face-to-face meeting.
- We cannot stress enough how key the investigation stage is. Get it wrong and you may face an employment tribunal claim especially where there may be issues relating to bullying and harassment or the protected characteristics.
- Upon consideration of all of the facts and evidence available to you as the employer, do you uphold the grievance, uphold some of it or reject it? Whatever you decide, provide a response that also explains the right to appeal.
- If there are issues, consider if there is a wider implication that needs to be addressed such as workplace bullying, excessive workloads, etc? This could easily generate more grievances, more time for your managers, and possibly even an increased employee turnover.
Issues to keep in mind when managing a grievance
Remember – the requirement is on you to address the grievance ‘without delay’. An employee who raises a grievance is already unhappy and likely to be demotivated and disengaged. This could easily be projected onto other employees too and affect how they are feeling. Dealing with a grievance without delay is best practice and helps ensure a culture of fairness and respect within your business.
Failing to acknowledge or deal with a grievance – whether informally or formally – may give rise to legal claims, not necessarily for the failure to address it but as a result of the issue it has flagged up. An employee with more than 2 years’ service could leave and claim constructive dismissal. If the employee wins the case the award would be calculated the same way as one for unfair dismissal. There could also be claims for discrimination or other issues which may have been the basis of the grievance. Your failure to address it will not place you in a good position in a tribunal.
Conducting the investigation
One essential part of managing a grievance process where we are often called upon to help is during the investigation. It is an absolutely fundamental part of the process, where all issues raised must be fully and objectively scrutinised. Remember it can go on to form the basis of a defence against a claim too – you cannot afford to get it wrong at this point.
Again, the ACAS site provides very good guidance on conducting the investigation fully and fairly. But as you will see from the steps it outlines, it is a time-consuming process that must cover every angle. Clients often find it beneficial to bring us in at this stage to conduct a thorough investigation, create an independent and objective report and then either make the decision in terms of the response on their behalf, or leave the employer to make the decision on the basis of our findings. Either way, a robust investigation helps make the correct call as to the outcome.
Can we help you with your grievance process?
In fact, managing all aspects of grievances successfully can be complex and difficult if it’s an area where you lack experience and expertise. At Jude Read HR Consultancy, we can offer you support throughout, using our extensive knowledge and experience to provide detailed step-by-step advice and guidance.
Whether you need a grievance procedure creating or any other help with key documentation, advice on how to handle a specific grievance, or even our full involvement throughout the whole process including chairing the formal meetings, we offer business owners, directors and managers highly flexible support to provide exactly what’s needed. We usually charge by the day, with the amount of time we spend helping companies with grievance issues averaging at around 3-7 days. But it can range from 1 day for a simple grievance or right up to 3 weeks for a complex one. We investigate sufficiently to ensure that a fair decision can be made, we will not escalate costs by investigating further than is necessary if the facts have already been established.
However much help is needed though, it’s always a wise investment – think about the cost of not getting it right. A correctly handled grievance process increases the chance of no further action. In some cases, an employee will feel better that an independent party has investigated their concerns, taking away any fears about internal biases. And most importantly, it shows that you have taken the employee’s case seriously. Even if the employee ultimately decides to pursue an employment tribunal case against your company, that fact will provide your company with a solid foundation for the defence.
To find out more, please do give us a call on 01455 231982 or send us a message via our contact form.