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Employee Issues
Employee Issues

Dealing with Grievances

Dealing with Grievances

In the last post, we wrote about the early stages of dealing with an employee with a work related problem. In summary, we focused on some common sense, informal actions you should take if an employee comes to you with a problem. In this post, we focus on what happens if your informal approach doesn’t work and the employee starts the formal grievance process.

Formal Grievance Policy

It’s best for every business to have a grievance policy in place.  By putting your own policy in place you have greater control over grievances as you have a consistent method for dealing with them.  The policy also provides employees with clarity so that they know what is required of you and them throughout the process.  (If you don’t have your own internal grievance policy then your safest option is to follow the ACAS Code of Practice).

Setting the tone

It can be very easy to become defensive when an employee raises a grievance.  This isn’t helpful!  It’s likely that the employee may be angry and/or upset and behaving irrationally. It’s important that you are a calming influence on the situation and take the emotion away rather than adding to it.  It’s far more likely that you’ll be able to guide the employee to a successful outcome if you can help them to manage their emotions and remain calm.

Key points to remember

We won’t go through the entire grievance process step-by-step in this article (if you would like support then do give us a call on 0203 319 1649 or use our email form to contact us); instead we thought it would be useful to use this article to cover some key areas where employers can get tripped up.

  • Get the detail – If an employee has a grievance then it isn’t your job to turn into a psychic Sherlock Holmes to try and work out what the issue is.  The employee is required to provide you with details of the grievance in writing and you need to encourage them to be as specific as possible.  If there are areas in their written grievance that are unclear then you can go back and ask for further information.  It’s best for all parties that the grievance is completely clear so as to avoid potentially wasting everyone’s time and causing a unnecessary disruption.
  • Investigate – there may be times when you feel that the employee is completely justified in their grievance and that another employee has actually committed a disciplinary offence.  Don’t be tempted to jump in and take action.  You need to go through an appropriate investigation which allows you to gather evidence from all parties before you take action.
  • Establish what the employee wants – this is a really important point that many employers overlook.  One of the first questions the employee should be asked is what outcome are they looking for.  This helps you understand what you are dealing with and how likely it is that you’re going to reach an outcome that is deemed to be acceptable by the employee.
  • Focus on the end goal – it’s very important for you to keep the end goal in mind (reaching a satisfactory outcome of the grievance wherever possible). At all times steer everyone involved away from the “he said, she said” arguments.

A grievance raised in ‘retaliation’

There are times when you start a disciplinary process with an employee and they raise a grievance in ‘retaliation’.  This is particularly common in cases where the disciplinary process is due to performance issues.  Invariably, the retaliatory grievance will cover all sorts of areas which the employee feels have prevented them from performing in their role.

It can be tempting to sigh deeply and then push on with the disciplinary process, but this isn’t wise.  As frustrating as it is, you are far better to deal with the grievance first (in a balanced and even-handed manner) before returning to the disciplinary issue.  This removes the excuses from the disciplinary discussions and puts you in a stronger position should you find yourself facing an employment tribunal on the performance issue in future.

When you can’t get to the outcome the employee wants

When dealing with a grievance situation there are times when you simply can’t get to the outcome the employee is looking for.  This, in itself, isn’t an issue from a legal perspective as long as you have followed a thorough process and are seen to have responded reasonably. Next week we’ll take a look at what happens if you can’t reach an acceptable solution with your employee and what the options are.

Dealing with grievances can be challenging so if you’d like any support then do give us a call on 0203 319 1649 and we’d be happy to give you some guidance.  Alternatively, use our contact form to email us and one of our advisers will be in touch.