As an employer, grievances can be some of the more challenging tasks to have to deal with and as such there can be a tendency to try and brush things under the carpet rather than tackling difficult issues head on. Failing to adequately address an employee’s grievance however can leave you exposed to the risk of not only potential legal claims (e.g. constructive unfair dismissal claims and/or discrimination claims) but also demotivated and unproductive staff.
In this guide we explain how to handle a formal grievance procedure to avoid falling foul of any legal pitfalls.
What is a Workplace Grievance?
As stated in the ACAS Code of Practice, workplace grievances are concerns, problems or complaints that employees may encounter and subsequently raise with their employers. Grievances can arise out of numerous situations, although most commonly involve the following issues:
- Bullying / Harassment (including sexual harassment)
- Health and safety
- Workplace relationships
- Employment terms and conditions
As an employer it is important to always remain vigilant to what is going on in the workplace, as early detection and monitoring of a situation can potentially prevent matters escalating to something more serious.
Grievances come in all shapes and sizes and whilst they may consist of a clearly labelled grievance letter or email, they may also be bound up in other documents, such as a resignation letter or a response to an appraisal, so it is important to be alert.
Formal vs Informal
Many grievance issues can be successfully resolved in an informal manner and in fact in some instances employees would prefer for matters to be handled on an informal basis. With this in mind it is important to speak with the individual concerned to find out how they want you to proceed. Whatever they decide however, you should always respond to a complaint even if it has been raised informally.
Formal Grievance Procedure
If an informal resolution has not been successful, an employee may want to raise a formal grievance. This will involve them submitting a written complaint setting out the details of their concern(s). Once you have received a formal grievance it is important to deal with the matter promptly and in accordance with your grievance policy. We have set out below a brief summary of the key steps involved in the process.
(1) Grievance Meeting
When an employee raises a formal grievance you should arrange a grievance meeting, ideally within 5 working days of receipt of the written grievance. The individual should be made aware of their right to be accompanied to this meeting.
The purpose of the meeting is to give the individual the opportunity to explain their grievance and to explore how they want the matter to be resolved. It is also an opportunity for you to ask any relevant questions to ensure you understand their concerns and what further investigations may be necessary.
(2) Investigating the Grievance
If further investigation is necessary you will need to gather detailed evidence from everyone involved, which may include taking written and signed statements from anyone in question, reviewing documents and where necessary, reviewing CCTV footage etc. Some of this evidence may be time critical (e.g. CCTV footage) so you will need to act promptly. You should also keep detailed written records of the events that take place during the grievance procedure including details of what the grievance is about and any decisions you have taken and why e.g. witnesses you may not have been able to speak to as they were off sick.
(3) Communicating the Outcome
Once you have completed the investigation you will need to confirm the outcome to the individual in writing, usually within one week of the final grievance meeting. You should inform them of the outcome of their grievance, whether this has been upheld in part, in full or not at all and any further action that you intend to take to resolve the grievance. You should also remind the individual of their right of appeal and give them a deadline for filing any appeal.
If someone chooses to appeal you will need to invite them to a formal meeting to discuss their grounds of appeal. The appeal meeting should be conducted by someone who has not been involved in the process so far. The individual will have the right to be accompanied to the appeal meeting.
Further investigations may be required following the appeal meeting before a decision can be made. Once the process has been completed you will need to write to the individual to confirm the appeal outcome. They will have no further right of appeal and the decision will be final.
We all know that grievances can be time consuming and there is the temptation to cut corners to try and speed the process up. In our experience however, failing to deal with grievances properly is only likely to result in an escalation of the issues which may lead to disputes with the company and potentially costly Employment Tribunal claims. As such, it is important to deal with grievances as and when they arise.Back
Sarah is a Solicitor in our Employment Team with extensive experience advising employers on a wide range of employment matters and is also a member of the Employment Lawyers Association.
Sarah Scholfield - Associate
To discuss how Glaisyers can assist you contact Sarah Scholfield on Sarah.Scholfield@glaisyers.com or via 0161 832 4666.