5 mistakes employers make when dealing with an employee grievance

Managing the grievance process

Dealing with grievances within the workplace in an appropriate and fair manner is crucial to having a happy workforce, to creating a sense of fairness, and addressing issues in a timely manner. A happy workforce is of course going to be more productive and loyal to your business, so it is clearly beneficial to get it right.

In addition to the benefits of getting the process right, it is also crucial from a legal perspective, as a failure in your grievance process can lead to:

  • Claims for constructive unfair dismissal;
  • Increase compensation in the Employment Tribunal by up to 25%;
  • Claims for discrimination.

I accept that investigating and dealing with grievances is time consuming and can be stressful, but it does not have to be a difficult process.

Despite this there are a number of crucial mistakes that I see time and again when advising employers and employees about disputes at work.

1. Not acknowledging the grievance

It may seem fairly obvious but, on many occasions employers either fail to recognise that the complaint is a formal grievance, or they recognise that it is a complaint but don’t deal with it under the grievance process.

The first step when receiving a grievance or complaint from an employee is to confirm receipt and start a dialogue with them to ascertain if they want to follow a formal grievance procedure or if it is something, they are happy to be dealt with informally.

2. Not checking internal grievance procedures

In many cases employers will have an internal grievance procedure in place, either in the contract or a handbook, but time and time again employers do not check what their own processes say about dealing with grievances.

This in itself can cause the employee to feel more aggrieved – “they can’t even get the process right” – and if the issue leads to an Employment Tribunal claim it will not look good for you. Worse still, if your grievance procedure is contractual (i.e. forms part of their terms of employment) you may find yourself with an additional breach of contract claim.

So, as soon as you receive a grievance pull out your grievance procedure and ensure you note the content and keep a copy to hand.

3. Jumping to conclusions

All too often employers will receive a grievance and instead of looking at it objectively will jump to a conclusion about the validity of the complaints. This then in turn can mean that a fair process is not followed, or the investigation is one sided.

It is important to keep an open mind about the grievance and about the employee who is raising the grievance. The investigator must ensure that in the course of their investigation they look for facts and evidence that both supports the grievance and goes against it. If you reach a conclusion before exploring the evidence, it can lead the investigator to only seek evidence to support the conclusion reached.

4. Giving details of the grievance to other staff members

When it comes to grievances, for some reasons Employers forget all of the rules and processes in respect of confidentiality and very quickie the nature and substance of the grievance becomes common knowledge in the business.

It is important to keep the content of the grievance confidential and only tell those people who really need to know about it and do not disclose the whole grievance.

If for example an employee has raised a grievance about their manager and you need to questions colleagues, you do not have to tell them who has raised the grievance or the content of their grievance, if could be sufficient to merely ask questions related to the grievance without specifics.

If you are going to discuss the content of the grievance with others, then you must explain this to the employee who raised the grievance and ensure that the other employees understand it is confidential and they in turn must not discuss with anyone.

5. Assigning an investigator who has not received any training

Hopefully grievances will not arise often in your business, however the fact you don’t have many grievances is not a good enough excuse for not training staff.

It is important that the investigator has had some training on how the process should work and what they can and cannot do. If you throw someone into the process with no training or support, it will inevitably lead to problems (including those listed above).

I am of the view that you should have one or two people (depending on the size of your organisation) who are trained in dealing with grievance and disciplinary investigations and whose job it is to investigate when issues arise. This is of course easier in a larger business but is something to consider when you are looking at your HR documents and strategy.

Conclusion

Good management of the grievance process is crucial to ensuring that matters are resolved fairly and smoothly. There is a high risk, from a legal perspective, to your reputation and in terms of the good will and morale of other employees, if you get it wrong.

The key points to note are:

  • Have a written grievance procedure in place that complies with the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievances;
  • Give managers training on dealing with grievance investigations;
  • Seek external help and support, particularly if the grievance is complicated or could become high risk.

My passion is to help employers and business owners to be the best employers they can and therefore if you want to be the best employer in your industry drop me an email to arrange a no obligation discussion and quote. Email: [email protected]

This article was written by Alison Colley, Solicitor and Founder of Real Employment Law Advice.

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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.

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