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How to prepare for and handle an employee grievance

September 1, 2015

Being an employer comes with all manner of responsibilities, not least ensuring the happiness and safety of your staff.

So when an employee approaches you, or the person responsible for HR within your organisation, with a problem or complaint (a grievance) you need to ensure you have the necessary procedures in place to resolve the situation efficiently and fairly.

Failing to recognise and deal with a grievance properly could result in the complaint going to an employment tribunal, which would likely prove to be costly, not to mention a huge strain on time and resources on any small business.

To help ensure, your business avoids such costly distractions, here’s how to prepare for, and manage staff grievances.

A grievance in the workplace can take the form of any complaint, problem, or concern; from small gripes such as the office washing up rota, to more serious matters such as claims of discrimination or harassment.

While a grievance can take many forms, the onus is ultimately on you, the employer, to treat every grievance seriously, and with consistency.

Here are three important points that every employer should familiarise themselves with, to prepare should an employee raise a grievance within their business.

1. Ensure your business has a formal and up to date grievance procedure in place

It is a legal requirement that every business, no matter the size, should have a formal grievance procedure in place.

The Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures recommends that employers provide a written, specific and clear grievance procedure, and make it accessible to all employees; in order to fulfill this, the information could be detailed within your staff handbook, for example.

Within the procedure documentation, employees should be made aware of the following information:

  • Who they should contact with a grievance and how best to contact them.
  • Informed that if the problem can’t be resolved informally, there will be a grievance hearing.
  • Expected timings for each stage of the process.
  • How to appeal a grievance decision.
  • Inform them that they have the right to be accompanied by a colleague or union representative in any meetings.
  • Outline what happens if a grievance is raised during disciplinary action (more about this later).

While the Acas Code of Practice isn’t a legally binding document in itself, employment tribunals will take the Code into account when considering cases which involve grievances. If you fail to comply with any provision of the Code, tribunals will be able to adjust any awards (compensation) by up to 25%.

Conversely, if they feel an employee has unreasonably failed to follow the guidance procedure set out in the Code they can reduce any award they have made by up to 25%.

Further reading on the ACAS Code of Practice can be found on the ACAS website.

Even if you have a grievance procedure in place, it is essential that it is reviewed regularly, to ensure the policies are still relevant and in line with ACAS’ guidelines. For help writing or renewing your grievance procedure, it is advised you seek the assistance of a specialist employment lawyer.

Crucially, you should ensure that your procedures are well communicated throughout all areas of the business, and that managers are trained to handle grievances in a way that aligns with your official procedure.

2. The grievance hearing

A grievance hearing is a meeting that sets out to deal with any grievance raised by an employee. When arranging a grievance hearing it is important that employers consider and adhere to the following:

  • The meeting should be held in a private room, away from interruptions.
  • Consider who else should attend the meeting; the employee’s line manager, for example;
  • Inform the employee that they have a statutory right to be accompanied by a companion; this could be a fellow employee, an official employed by a trade union, or a workplace trade union representative (who is not an employed official and must have been certified by their union as being competent to accompany a worker). While companions do not have the right to answer on behalf of the worker, they may contribute on behalf of the worker to discussions during the meeting, or confer with the employee at any stage.
  • Offer the employee an opportunity to say how they think the issue should be resolved.
  • If further advice needs to be sought and no conclusion is reached, consider adjourning the meeting.
  • Avoid making hasty, irrational decisions, as they could have negative repercussions.
  • Inform the employee they have the right to appeal, if they are not happy with the outcome.

Following a grievance hearing, it is the employer’s responsibility to decide what action should be taken, if any. This decision should then be communicated with the employee, in writing, without reasonable delay.

Upon receiving the employer’s decision, the employee should be given the opportunity to appeal, should they feel the outcome to be unsatisfactory. The employee’s grounds for appeal should be communicated to the employer in writing, without reasonable delay, after which a meeting should be held to hear the appeal.

The appeal hearing should be treated much the same as the original grievance hearing, but should be dealt with impartially and by a manager who has not previously been involved in the case, wherever possible.

3. Handling grievances raised during disciplinary proceedings

Raising a grievance in normal working circumstances is one thing, but what should you do when a grievance is raised by an employee while they are undergoing disciplinary action?

Firstly, you should consider whether the grievance and disciplinary cases are related. If they are not, then the disciplinary process may be temporarily put on hold in order to deal with the grievance.

If the grievance and disciplinary cases are related, then it may be necessary to deal with the issues concurrently.

In such circumstances it is important to consider the validity of the grievance raised, as it may have been submitted as way of delaying the disciplinary hearing.

You should always treat a grievance with equal merit, but if the complaint comes suspiciously out of the blue, then it may be worth investigating the underlying causes further.

Conclusion

Grievances are just one of the many employment related issues employers may have to face, but by educating yourself on how to handle a grievance, and by ensuring the correct procedures are in place, you can manage the situation.

By being in control and having confidence that the procedures you have put in place are compliant, the stress of dealing with workplace complaints can be reduced significantly.

If you are in any doubt at all about handling and resolving grievances in the workplace, you should review the ACAS website for more information, or consult an employment law specialist for help.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Matt Cann, Digital Marketing Manager at Fisher Jones Greenwood Solicitors – an award-winning law firm based throughout Essex and in Central London.

More help on managing staff

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