Workplace Grievances: How to manage effectively
  • Cipd
  • FSB
  • St Andrews Business Club
  • HR Inner Circle
Workplace Grievances: How to manage effectively
  • Cipd
  • FSB
  • St Andrews Business Club
  • HR Inner Circle
Workplace Grievances: How to manage effectively
29 April 2022

Recently I have been advising different clients with a number of grievances.  Like many other HR and employment law professionals, I find it frustrating that people put up with things for far too long so that, by the time they raise the issue, it is actually very difficult to resolve satisfactorily and ultimately both the manager and the employee can’t find a resolution.

I thought this topic would be good to focus on this month and to share with, you my readers, some important HR tips in managing, and hopefully resolving, grievances.

Firstly, what is a grievance?

Well, it is essentially a concern, problem, or complaint that an employee raises.  The details of how, and to whom, they raise such a grievance should be included in the written statement of employment particulars (contract of employment).

An employee has the right to bring a grievance to an employer and the Acas Code of Practice on handling discipline and grievances must be followed.  It is a statutory code so failure to follow the Code could result in an uplift in compensation if an employee is successful in bringing a claim at an Employment Tribunal.  So, it is something to be very much aware of both from a litigious point of view, and of course from an employee relations point of view.

The Acas Code of Practice outlines the basic process of how employers should deal with grievances.  It states that where an employee lets their employer know the nature of their grievance, the employer should hold a meeting with the employee to discuss the grievance; they should allow the employee to be accompanied at the meeting; and then the employer should decide on appropriate action.  If the grievance isn’t resolved, the employer should allow the employee to take the grievance further. 

The guide, which accompanies the Code of Practice, recommends that grievances be dealt with informally and I have, over the years of being in HR, had this quoted at me many times by trade union officials.  I completely agree – I would much prefer it if all workplaces were so open and supportive that employees felt comfortable in raising any issue with their line manager, or with another manager if their line manager is the issue.  However, I unfortunately rarely see this in action (perhaps also because by the time I’m involved, it is too late and has gone formal).

Other principles that the Acas code covers include the following points:

  • Employers and employees should raise and deal with issues promptly and should not unreasonably delay meetings, decisions or confirmation of those decisions.
  • Employers and employees should act consistently
  • Employers should carry out any necessary investigation to establish the facts
  • Employers should allow employees to be accompanied at any formal meeting (by a trade union representative or work colleague)
  • Employees should be able to appeal against any formal decisions.

My specific tips are as follows:

  1. Throughout the process:
  • Be as fair and reasonable as possible
  • Act without undue delay.  These problems and complaints really can impinge on a person’s ability to perform well at their work.
  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Try and see it from the person’s point of view.  Really get in their shoes and learn how best you can resolve the issue.
  1. Acknowledgement - When a grievance is received, the first thing is to acknowledge it in writing so that the employee is aware that you will be dealing with it. 
  2. Plan - Then consideration should be made, depending on the nature of the grievance, as to what, if any, investigation is required.  The guidance is to carry out any “necessary” investigation therefore if it is a straight forward matter about pay or other terms and conditions, then perhaps very little “investigation” needs to be made.  However, if it concerns another employee and their behaviour, then a certain amount of investigation will be required to ascertain facts. 
  3. Investigation - In terms of investigating a grievance about someone, it can be helpful to:
  • write down each individual complaint;
  • determine who you need to speak to about it
  • what documentation might be helpful to refer to, and
  • whether there are any policies that may have been breached and if so, which ones. 

Then the investigation can commence and should focus on precisely the matters raised.  This might feel similar to a disciplinary investigation in that you are looking for corroboration of facts, confirmation of what the employee has said happened, which means that you need very specific information and detail from the employee who you might need to meet with in order to get this.  In my experience, an employee who complains of “a history of bullying and harassment” rather than what they actually experienced on, for example, XX date in front of YY person and it made me feel humiliated.  The latter is of course much easier to corroborate than the former.

  1. Meeting - Once the investigation has been concluded, you must meet with the employee who raised the complaint.  This should be done via a formal invite giving the employee the right to be accompanied.  [Note: at the meeting consider what adjustments might need to be made for example, someone to take notes of the meeting, or a translator, or other reasonable adjustment to enable the employee to fully participate at the meeting]. 
  2. Discussion - At the meeting with the employee to discuss their grievance and your investigation findings, ascertain precisely how the employee wants it to be resolved.  It is important to listen carefully to the employee and explore options that may be open to you to consider.
  3. Desired resolution - Sometimes, the employee doesn’t know what they want.  My advice in these situations is to make sure you are fair, follow your procedures, take good notes of meetings and be as reasonable as you can be.  That may be all you will be able to do in such circumstances.
  4. Decision - After the meeting, a decision must be made as to whether the grievance, has been upheld or not.  If it is upheld, you should outline what action will be taken to appease the employee. 
  5. Appeal - If an employee decides to appeal the outcome, then it is advisable to ask them to state on what grounds they are appealing and against which findings.  For example, it may be that they raised more than one grievance so you need them to be specific about their appeal.
  6. Appeal hearing - Consider carefully who should hear an appeal – if a small company with no other senior managers to use, it may be advisable to seek external assistance.  It should be heard by someone who can bring a degree of impartiality and who will be thorough, fair and ideally has some experience of dealing with such matters.  An appeal is an important part of the process – for example if there were flaws in the original process, or personality clashes, then this really can be a way of resolving issues.
  7. Follow Up - If there is a finding from the original hearing or the appeal hearing, to take certain specific action, then ensure that is followed up.  Remember, the original issue led to one of your key members of staff to raise a complaint and it must therefore be dealt with appropriately and without delay.  The worse possible outcomes are that it happens again or that you lose that person. 

I hope this has given you some tips in handling what should be a very straightforward process, but that, at times, can feel anything but that!

If you want any advice about grievances, then please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Thanks for reading!

Caroline

TAGGED IN: HR, HR Support, Communication, Grievances
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