Grievance at Work

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An average working environment comprises of people from different backgrounds and with different life experiences working together to achieve a common goal. When you have people with diverse opinions, ideas and behaviours working together, it should then come as no surprise that personalities and working styles might differ, leading to conflicts. When an issue arises in the workplace, it’s important to have policies in place that addresses the procedures for reporting and dealing with them…

If handled incorrectly, as well as your staff making claims for constructive unfair dismissal, it can negatively affect your brand reputation and your relationship with your remaining employees.

Most problems will fall into one on two categories:

  • Grievances
  • Disciplinary

What is a grievance?

It’s a complaint about a concern or problem. In a work setting, an employee grievance relates to issues they have with their colleague(s) or the work processes. When a member of staff informs you of problems they’re experiencing at work, it’s called ‘raising a grievance’.

They can do this to point out unfair treatment of themselves or their colleagues or to highlight something in the work process that requires addressing.

Conflicts may occur due to a variety of circumstance, from disagreements overworking styles to disputes over pay packages. Some of the most common types of grievances at work relate to

There are two way to raise a grievance,

  • Formally
  • And informally.

Your staff can make an informal grievance by making a verbal complaint to their line manager. An informal grievance aims to resolve issues as best you can before involving other departments. And because there are no rules to the process, together with the employee you can be creative with solutions to problems.

When this occurs, the manager should endeavour to address it as soon as is reasonably possible by arranging a meeting with the employee to discuss the reasons for their concern and to come up with a mutually beneficial solution.

If you’re unable to resolve an issue via the informal grievance process, or if the employee decides not to make an informal complaint in the first place then they’ll raise a formal grievance in writing.

Businesses must have a written process in place for dealing with formal grievances. This process should set out the organisation’s commitment to fairness and equality and include details of who and how to contact about the grievance. It should also highlight reasonable behaviour that both the employee and the organisation must follow when dealing with conflicts.

Your grievance process should follow the code of practice set out in your employee handbook and include details relating to:

  • Acting fairly and consistently.
  • Dealing with issues promptly and avoiding unreasonable delays to meetings, decisions or confirmation of those decisions.
  • Conducting the necessary investigations to establish the facts before making any decisions.
  • Informing employees of the basis of the conflict and give them a chance to respond before making any decisions.
  • Reminding employees of their rights to have someone accompany them to any formal grievance meeting.
  • Advising staff on their right to appeal any decision made.

As well as including it in your employee handbook, consider making it readily available on your company intranet and in your HR manual.

It’s worth noting, Acas provides a Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures that business can use as a guide when dealing with these issues.

Groups of two or more employees can also raise a collective grievance regarding issues common to them all relating to their employment.

For example, they can raise issues on matters relating to the –

  • Terms and conditions of their employment.
  • Working practices.
  • Health and safety matters.
  • Organisational change.

With collective grievances, employees can decide on a representative to present their grievance.

What is a grievance meeting?

Also referred to as the grievance hearing, it’s where the employee that raised a grievance can expand on their concern and present evidence to support their cause.

When an employee raises a formal grievance, you should schedule a formal grievance meeting within a reasonable timeframe.

Here the employee will explain their grievance and their suggestions for a resolution. Because the purpose of this meeting is to establish the facts of the complaint, you may adjourn the meeting to conduct any investigations required to resolve the case.

Remember, all workers have a statutory right to be accompanied by a ‘companion’ when they’re required (or invited) to attend any formal disciplinary or grievance hearing by their employer. A companion can be a fellow worker or a trade union official.

In this meeting, you’ll:

  • Introduce yourself and everyone present at the meeting.
  • Invite the employee to state their grievance, provide supporting evidence and suggest a resolution. (Although not required to, the representative or companion can address the hearing and confer with the employee.)
  • Call in witnesses to give their accounts of the event in question.
  • Consider the evidence and sum up the main points.
  • Inform all participant when he or she can expect a response or decision.

After considering all angles and coming to a decision, you’ll need to inform all relevant parties. While you can do this verbally, it’s important to confirm said decisions in writing as well. This is to avoid misunderstanding and to act as evidence if the employee decides to take to issue to an employment tribunal.

Remember, you should send out copies of all relevant documents relating to the grievance to all parties involved before the meeting. During the meeting, you should have someone taking a detailed record of what’s said and send out to all participants after the meeting.

Examples of Grievances in the workplace

Some common examples of conflicts or issues that may leave to a grievance include:

Pay and benefits: An employee can raise a grievance if they aren’t satisfied with their pay package or if they think they should be earning as much as someone in a similar position. Staff members dissatisfied with their pay packages can refer to your pay and benefits policies for details on salary reviews.

Bullying: This can take many forms, from physical to verbal and non-verbal conduct. It usually involves verbal or practical jokes, physical or psychological threats, deliberate exclusion from meetings and team communication, outing a colleague as LGBT without their consent, etc.

Unfair treatment: While there’s no wording relating to ‘unfair treatment’ at work in the Equality Act 2010, it does have provisions for treating an employee ‘less favourably’ than other staff members due to a protected characteristic. Employees can raise a grievance over the way they’re treated at work.

Working conditions: It’s important to ensure that the work environment and conditions are set up to get the best out of your employees. As well as your legal obligation to protect the wellbeing of your staff, assessing the working conditions in your organisation contributes to reductions in retention rates and absenteeism.

Is there a time limit of raising a grievance?

No.

Unlike tribunal claims, there’s no statutory time limit, which means employees can raise grievances at any time. While you can set grievance timescales within your company policy, it wouldn’t be advisable to do so as your staff may see it as a way of preventing them from raising issues that concern them.

It’s best to encourage staff to raise grievances ‘without any unreasonable delay’ in order to resolve the issue promptly.

Although, if an employee wants to make a claim to an employment tribunal, in most circumstances they’ll need to do it within three months (less one day) from when the issue they’re complaining about happened.

It’s worth noting, this time limit still applies even when the member of staff goes through your company’s grievance procedure first.

Can an employee raise a grievance after leaving?

Yes.

While employees can do this after they’ve left your employ, the results may not be as effective as it would be if they were still in your employ. This is because you aren’t obligated to engage in the process, as its original intention was to resolve conflict among existing employees.

Can an agency worker raise a grievance?

Technically, yes.

Although, most agency workers are unable to make a claim for unfair dismissal or redundancy, as they’re not considered employees of the company where they’re placed.

In some cases, agency workers can raise grievances with a business they’re placed with, it’ll depend on the wording in their contract. In this case, their trade union can provide a representative to accompany them to the grievance or disciplinary meeting.

How to respond to a grievance against you

If it’s a grievance about a particular manager, then they themselves mustn’t personally be in charge of overseeing the hearing wherever feasibly possible. As well as ensuring impartiality, it helps to protect the integrity of the grievance process.

Instead, consider referring the issue to the HR department, another manager or supervisor that could approach with impartiality.

How to file a grievance against an employee

As an employer, you cannot file a grievance against an employee. If you have issues/concerns with them then you can go through the disciplinary procedure.

Expert support

For any advice or guidance on managing these incidents, or if you have wider HR queries, all MIA members have free access to Croner’s member support helpline. Email alice@mia.org.uk or call 01403 800500 for the exclusive Business Support Helpline scheme number.

www.croner.co.uk