Grievances at work can usually be resolved informally with the help of HR or senior management teams. However, if you have a particular issue at work, it is always better to voice your concerns formally. This is known as an ‘internal grievance procedure’.
If you or someone has been through this process and feel the matter is still unresolved, you may want to consider other options. At Optimal Solicitors, our expert team of employment law and HR solicitors are here to support you through any grievance procedure, no matter how complicated.
What is a grievance?
A grievance is a formal complaint raised by an employee in relation to their work, the workplace or working conditions, or a colleague.
Grievances can vary widely in nature, from minor disagreements through to serious claims such as bullying and discrimination. If these claims are not dealt with properly, they could lead to the employer being taken to an employment tribunal.
Do we need to have a written grievance procedure?
Businesses can save substantial sums of money if they have an effective grievance policy in place. A recent report by ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) https://www.acas.org.uk/costs-of-conflict estimates that workplace conflict costs UK employers around £28.5bn every year. This estimate is based on the total cost of handling workplace conflict, including informal, formal, and legal processes, as well as the cost of sickness absences and resignations.
The report shows that close to half a million employees resign each year due to:
- The conflict itself
- The handling of grievances
- Improper procedures.
Workplace conflict can lead to staff stress, anxiety or depression. These can have a profound effect on an employee’s productivity and mental health. Worse still, if these conflicts are not dealt with, companies may have to bear the brunt of staff absence – affecting productivity and bottom lines.
The report highlights that conflict will be more likely as organisations start returning to the workplace following the coronavirus pandemic. As such, companies must be prepared for this and have effective measures in place sooner rather than later.
Who should deal with a grievance?
The grievance should be dealt with by a member of management or HR with relevant experience. The person investigating the disciplinary should be impartial – for this reason, nobody involved in the conflict should investigate it where possible.
What happens when an employee raises a grievance in the middle of a disciplinary process?
If an employee raises a grievance during a disciplinary process, the employer must find a way of dealing with both fairly. This should also limit their liability as an employer.
If there is something in the grievance that prevents a fair disciplinary process, then it would be best to pause the disciplinary while the grievance is investigated. For example, an employee could raise a grievance that the person in charge of the disciplinary is bullying them, which would make it unfair and biased.
Generally, if the grievance relates to the disciplinary process, then both processes can be running in parallel. However, if the grievance is totally unrelated, the best practice would be to pause the disciplinary while the grievance is investigated.
What should we do if an employee raises several grievances relating to the same matter?
There is very little legal guidance on what to do if an employee raises several grievances on the same matter. Unlike disciplinary processes, there are no final stages such as tribunal claims if complaints go past a certain point.
There is also no legal guidance on what a grievance must contain. Employees can turn to the ACAS Code of Practice, but again, there is little information on this. As an employer, you are legally obliged to:
- Have a meeting with the employee.
- Adjourn the meetings for further investigation.
- Allow the employee the right to appeal.
In addition, the employer should consider their own grievance procedure, which should be flexible. For example, if the grievance does not raise any new issues, employers could dismiss it but still allow the employee to appeal. If the employee raises a new issue, any subsequent meetings should deal with these issues only – providing the employer can prove all other grievances have been dealt with.
In these situations, employers have to strike a key balance. They must be patient in dealing with the employee’s grievance effectively. They should also keep records of their processes and ask the employee to sign them to show that they are a true reflection of the situation. Finally, employers should try to remain as fair as possible at all times.
What happens if the employee raises a grievance against a manager and then refuses to work with the manager?
If an employee grievance results in a staff member refusing to work with a manager, the first step would be to encourage mediation. This is a voluntary process and works best when both employees enter into the discussions freely.
If this fails, then there is an option to move either the employee or manager so that their interactions are reduced. Many employers do not like this option, and understandably so – often, this means the problem is simply ‘moved’ rather than resolved.
If this method does not work or is not possible, and the employee still refuses to work with the manager, this could result in disciplinary action. This is because the employee’s behaviour would be classed as ‘failing to abide by a manager’s reasonable instruction’.
However, as the employer, you must ensure you have fully investigated any grievances relating to the manager. This may be uncomfortable for all parties, but is the best way of preventing legal action. If you believe the grievance is unfounded, then you would be better off taking disciplinary action.
How can Optimal Solicitors help?
Optimal Solicitors assist employers in managing workplace grievances effectively and swiftly. We also work with employees to guide them on writing effective grievances to their employer.
We can also assist in reviewing and drafting a thorough, flexible grievance process for your business. If you need legal guidance, we can represent or assist your business should a grievance reach an Employment Tribunal.
For advice on handling grievance at work, contact our employment team at 0161 250 7771 and we will be happy to help. Alternatively, you may also fill out our online contact form and we will get in touch as soon as possible.