May 30, 2014

Handling a workplace grievance

Minor grievances should be dealt with informally wherever possible – it’s always better to have an open and honest culture where employees can discuss issues with a manager to prevent them from escalating.

It is always advisable to keep notes of discussions and investigations so there is an accurate record showing how and when an issue has been dealt with.

If the informal approach does not resolve the issue, or the situation has gone too far, then the employee must put the grievance in writing in accordance with the organisation’s grievance policy.

As an employee has a statutory right to raise a grievance and a right not to be victimised for doing so, the matter should always be taken seriously. If a dispute ever escalates to an Employment Tribunal claim, it will make the claim much harder to defend if the employer has made no previous attempt to resolve the issue.

The Grievance Procedure

The Meeting

Once a formal grievance has been received, the procedure should be invoked without unreasonable delay and a meeting arranged to gain a fuller understanding of the situation. In this meeting, the employee has a statutory right to be accompanied by a workplace colleague or Trade Union official. It is useful to have a separate note taker at the meeting so the person chairing can give the matter their full attention.

Unless the grievance is about the employee’s line manager, the Chair of the meeting should be the employee’s manager. The chairperson should remain objective throughout the meeting and must listen carefully to what the employee has to say.  They must not criticise, judge or belittle the employee. This is the fact finding stage and it will be important to separate facts from emotions. The Chair should summarise at the end of the meeting and ask the employee to agree that the minutes are an accurate reflection of what has been discussed.

The Investigation

If an investigation is required, this stage should be undertaken as soon as possible but also as thoroughly as possible in order to establish the relevant facts. It may be necessary to interview witnesses or gather information from other sources. Everyone involved should be told that the matter is confidential and must not be discussed with anyone else.

The Chair should consider all the details, facts and evidence before deciding on an outcome.

The Outcome

The employee should be notified of the outcome in writing and be provided with a full explanation of how the decision was reached.  It may be appropriate to do this face to face and then confirm in writing, as sometimes it will be necessary to agree and arrange follow up actions with the employee. For example, this might involve further training or assistance, monitoring and review, or mediation with another person.

It is important that whatever is agreed between the two parties actually takes place, otherwise a further breakdown in the relationship is likely and efforts made in dealing with the grievance could be negated.

The employee must be given the right to appeal the decision and the details of how to do this must be clearly specified in the outcome letter, in line with the organisation’s grievance policy.

In the event of an appeal, a further meeting must be arranged with a manager as senior as (or more senior than) the person chairing the original meeting. This must be someone who has not previously been involved in the case who will be able to act impartially. The specific grounds of the appeal need to be considered and investigated where necessary, repeating the steps above.  The outcome letter this time round will, however, confirm that the decision reached is final.

Further Advice and Support

Our HR Advice Line is on hand to support employers who may be faced with a workplace grievance. Our team of advisers can be contacted on 0845 073 0240.

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