Grappling with Grievances

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A recent study reported that around 30% of employers have seen an increase in the number of grievances being raised. The study found that the most common concerns being raised were;

  • Bullying or harassment;
  • Relationships with managers and colleagues; and
  • Pay.

What’s the cause?

Many employees are working under pressure, perhaps the business isn’t performing as well as it was and a role that used to be easier, is now more challenging. The cost-of-living crisis is also a huge factor on both the business and its employees. The business will be facing rising costs and so may inadvertently be placing pressure onto its staff, and the staff are also facing rising household and living costs. There’s also the issue of remote or hybrid working, although a positive for many, some employees feel that this negatively impacts their working relationships and makes them feel isolated or more vulnerable.

Ten tips on how to deal with a grievance efficiently.

When a grievance is raised, it should be done so with a view to resolving concerns. In some cases employees do it as a precursor to an employment claim or to protect themselves in a situation where they feel vulnerable (such as they are under performing or guilty of misconduct) but in every case, you need to act fairly and reasonably in responding to it. If you have regular one to ones or an annual appraisal process this might prevent matters from reaching a formal stage.

If the formal process is invoked then, the following tips should assist to help with either a positive resolution or an ability to demonstrate to a Tribunal that you have complied with your obligations.

  1. The process – make sure that you have a comprehensive, well-drafted grievance procedure in line with the ACAS Code of Practice and follow it. It might seem obvious but read and follow the process that you seek to rely on.
  2. Who hears it – where the concerns are about the employee’s line manager and/or in the absence of an HR function you might want to consider appointing an independent person. If you are a small business or the concerns raised are tricky/complex, we can assist you with this process and arrange for an independent HR consultant to assist you.
  3. Where – think about where the hearing should take place. It’s not always appropriate for the hearing to take place in the workplace. Consider a neutral location or perhaps holding the hearing via teams or other video portal to allow the employee some privacy.
  4. Confidentiality – you may need to discuss some of the other concerns with employees who are named or those who might have witnessed events. Make sure that those individuals understand that the matters have to remain confidential. The employee should also be aware that you intend to discuss the concerns raised with others. Any breach of confidentiality risks damage to the trust and confidence between the company and the employee.
  5. Notes – the employee might be sensitive about the issues being raised and if your grievance procedure does not permit recording of formal hearings then ask the employee if they’re happy to the hearing to be recorded which then means that note takers don’t need to be present. It also saves a significant amount of time trying to agree the most accurate version of the minutes.
  6. Companion – the employee has the right to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative. Many employees ask to bring their friend or parent. Although you don’t have to agree, sometimes it’s the best way forward because it shows openness and sensitivity and can often assist because the person who is close to the employee gets to hear both sides and may have a positive influence on how the employee responds. We would just suggest that you check the occupation of the companion before agreeing to their attendance.
  7. The issues – when you open the hearing, clarify the issues that are being raised and ask the employee to agree that your understanding of the issues to be addressed is correct. This saves having to revisit missed points at a later date. It’s also useful to at the start of the hearing to clarify the role of each person in the hearing and remind the employee what their companion can and can’t do.
  8. Manage – the employee’s expectations. Tell them how long it will take you to respond and what further investigation you might carry out. If your grievance procedures advises that the outcome will be communicated within 1 week of the hearing, try and stick to that, or if that’s not possible, notify the employee that you need more time and why.
  9. The waiting period – think about working arrangements during the grievance process, is the employee happy to come to work or should they work under a remote or hybrid model. Their needs should be accommodated where possible, but they shouldn’t be forced away form the workplace for having raised concerns.
  10. Outcome– at the end of the hearing, ask the employee what resolution they’re looking for. How can you fairly conclude a grievance without knowing the answer to this?

For support, please contact our Employment team who are highly experienced in advising on grievance matters and will ensure that you receive bespoke advice tailored to the needs of your business.

(January 2023)