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- What is a grievance at work?
- What are the different types of workplace grievance?
- What are the laws surrounding an employer's grievance procedure?
- The difference between disciplinary and grievance procedures
- Does a grievance have to be heard before a disciplinary?
- Who should carry out a workplace grievance procedure?
Not every member of staff will enjoy their employment with you. Some might even have complaints about your business practices. Whilst it can be frustrating, you should take every complaint seriously. To do so, you should implement a company grievance procedure.
If you fail to use a full and fair procedure when managing an employee grievance, it could have a negative impact on your business. Such as decreasing employee morale, engagement and retention rates. It might even result in an employment tribunal claim.
In this guide, what a grievance procedure is, the benefits of using one, and how to address grievances raised within your company.
What is a grievance at work?
A grievance at work is a worry, issue or complaint an employee has. A grievance can relate to anything from a small comment to a serious issue. This could be a problem with their employer, co-workers or about the business itself.
Common examples of grievances include:
- Alleged bullying, harassment or victimisation.
- Frustrations with workload.
- Unsatisfactory working conditions.
- Problems with a senior manager.
Once an employee raises a grievance, the employer should examine their comments and consider a response. For example, whether they should hold an informal or formal process.
The employer will then hold an informal or formal grievance meeting with the employee. And investigate the issue further – until they reach a decision on whether or not to uphold the grievance. This should be in accordance with their grievance procedure.
What are the different types of workplace grievance?
A workplace grievance is a way for employees to raise an issue with their employer. Businesses will typically highlight their grievance policy in every employment contract, as well as their company handbook.
There are two types of grievances an employee can make. An informal grievance is usually short, whilst a formal grievance is typically more lengthy and requires even more reasonable time and attention. Let's look at both types of grievance below.
The most common type of grievance employers will see is an informal grievance. This type of grievance is typically small in scale and easier to resolve.
To raise a grievance informally, the employee may have an initial meeting with their line manager about the complaint. The line manager will then talk through the issue with them and come to a resolution.
An informal approach can also tackle more serious issues before it becomes severe. This can help avoid a further complaint and even legal proceedings. But in some circumstances, it may be more appropriate to initiate a more formal procedure.
A formal grievance requires a formal grievance procedure. If the staff member chooses to raise a formal complaint, this should be in writing and further investigation may be necessary.
An employee may raise a formal grievance if the informal process failed to resolve the issue. Staff can even submit a formal grievance if they don't want to deal with a complaint informally. But, a formal procedure will usually be necessary when dealing with serious grievances, such as, sexual harassment or whistleblowing.
Employers should review such cases seriously, and take further action to gather all the facts. Following this, they should request a further meeting with their employee to hear their case and then carry out any further investigations.
What are the laws surrounding an employer's grievance procedure?
It is a legal requirement for employers to outline their grievance policy within the first two months of a staff member joining. Staff should receive this in their wider written statement of employment. It must include:
- Who the employee should contact about a grievance.
- How to contact this person about the grievance.
The Gov website advises that you do not have to include information about your grievance procedure in employment contracts. If you do, you must follow the procedure you have outlined thoroughly. Otherwise, employees could raise a breach of contract claim against you.
The difference between disciplinary and grievance procedures
There is a difference between disciplinary and grievance procedures. Employers use a disciplinary procedure to assess a staff member's behaviour or poor performance.
For example, they might take disciplinary action if an employee is refusing to complete tasks. Whereas, an employer would use a grievance procedure to address a staff complaint about their employment.
Does a grievance have to be heard before a disciplinary?
No, a grievance does not have to be heard before a disciplinary. But, the employer can also pause the disciplinary process if a staff member chooses to raise a grievance during it.
Some practical guidance from the Acas Code of Practice says that - if this happens - the employer can deal with both issues at the same time if the two are in relation to each other.
Who should carry out a workplace grievance procedure?
Employers can decide who carries out the grievance procedure in their workplace. If they're a bigger company they might ask their HR department - which can be beneficial.
They can act as a neutral party - since they likely won't work closely with the majority of staff. In turn, employees might find it easier to open up.
Another senior manager at work can also oversee the grievance procedure. The employee's line manager would be best practice because they'll already have an existing relationship with the staff member. Consequently, the employee might respect their suggestions and advice more.
What are possible grievance outcomes?
There are several possible grievance outcomes an employer could have to manage. Firstly, if the grievance is upheld, the employer should take action to resolve the issue. This might include taking disciplinary action if a co-worker is involved. Or, reviewing salaries within the company if it's an issue of pay.
Of course, the employer will likely take no action if they find the grievance to be unsubstantiated. However, it's important to note that staff have the right to appeal their employer's decision. This means the employer will have to arrange an appeal meeting and have someone else conduct the appeal. They will then reach a final decision about the grievance.
If the grievance is still not upheld and the employee is unhappy, they could make a constructive dismissal claim to an employment tribunal. This could result in lengthy legal proceedings. And even financial loss due to compensation awarded to the employee by an employment tribunal.
Why are grievance procedures important?
Grievance procedures uphold transparency within your company, as well as ensuring reasonable behaviour from senior colleagues when handling complaints at work. They provide a course of action for employees raising a grievance, and make sure it's done in a fair and lawful way.
This can ultimately help avoid further workplace disputes, as well as constructive dismissal claims to an employment tribunal.
What are the benefits of a good grievance procedure?
A proper grievance policy can provide several benefits to your business. Obviously, no employer wants to hear that their employees are unhappy. But dealing with grievances adequately can strengthen your relationship with staff.
Let's explore these benefits in further detail.
Make employees feel valued
A fair and proper grievance procedure will make employees feel like their voice has been heard. And if you take necessary action to resolve their issue, it will increase their trust in you as an employer.
Not to mention, their engagement might increase from seeing any improvements you make as a result.
Lowers staff turnover
Your staff turnover could decrease if you have an effective grievance policy.
If your employees feel like their feelings matter, it will likely improve staff retention rates at your company. Because staff will want to stay working for an employer that provides a supportive workplace.
Ensures legal compliance
Following a grievance process will also ensure your business follows legal requirements. Because the procedure will emphasise the need for transparency and require a thorough investigation.
This will show staff you have taken their matter seriously. And decrease the likelihood of them submitting a claim to an employment tribunal.
What are the steps of a formal grievance procedure?
Preparation is key to conducting a grievance procedure. You need to be able to conduct the process with the care it requires. To do so, you need to consider several steps in your procedure.
Try to resolve the matter informally
In the first instance, staff will likely raise a grievance with you. As long as the issue isn't severe, you can hope to resolve it through a conversation, or alternative dispute resolution.
This will hopefully be the end of the matter if everyone seems happy moving forward. But, an employee may raise a formal grievance if they are unsatisfied with the outcome.
Responding to a formal grievance letter
If you receive a formal grievance letter from an employee, you should set up a formal meeting without unreasonable delay. Ensure you provide a written response to your employee confirming receipt of the grievance. In addition to details of the grievance hearing.
Keeping a record of meetings, correspondence and necessary actions, will help in rare instances where legal action is taken - and you need to show you have followed a fair process.
The grievance hearing
You should conduct the grievance hearing at a time and date that works for both parties. And hold it in a private place away from workstations. Ensure you inform your employee prior to the grievance hearing that another person can accompany them. The person must be:
- A colleague.
- A trade union official.
- A representative employed by a trade union.
If your employee has a disability, ensure you consider any reasonable adjustments. For example, they may wish to bring a carer with them. Any relevant senior managers and a note taker should also attend.
You should allow the employee to explain the grievance, and how they might like you to resolve the matter. Following this, adjourn the meeting to conduct further investigation into the grievance.
Initiating a grievance investigation
The next step in a grievance process is to investigate the matter thoroughly. The employee will likely have submitted evidence supporting their claims. But you should obtain all relevant documents (and other evidence) from all parties involved, to ensure you have the correct information from the case.
For example, if the grievance is about another colleague, you will need to listen to their side of the story. And review any evidence they submit, too. Following consideration of all evidence, the person investigating the grievance will need to make a final decision.
The grievance outcome
Next, you'll need to inform the employee of the grievance outcome in writing. And respond to the employee without unreasonable delay. The Acas Code of Practice advises that this be within five working days.
If you choose not to uphold the grievance, you should still put this in writing. Moreover, you should also inform the employee of their right to an appeal hearing, if they're unhappy with the decision.
The employee's right to an appeal meeting
If the employee decides to appeal the grievance outcome, this should be put in writing without unreasonable delay. The writing should explain the employee's reasons to appeal. You should then arrange the appeal hearing and provide notice to the employee.
They can again have a relevant person accompany them to the meeting. But, another (more senior) manager should hold the appeal meeting and conduct investigations. This should be someone who was not previously involved in the case to ensure a fair process.
The outcome of the appeal hearing should be communicated to the employee. If they're still unhappy with the result of the appeal hearing, they might submit a claim to an employment tribunal.
Get expert advice on grievance procedures from Peninsula
You should ensure you conduct any grievance procedures fairly. This includes detailing every step of the process in your company handbook, employment contract or personnel manual. As well as outlining your employees's rights when the process begins, and treating grievances with consistent attention.
If you fail to implement a proper grievance policy, you may risk high staff turnover and low employee engagement. Not to mention, you could even face an employment tribunal claim for constructive dismissal. Consequently, it could result in hefty compensation payments.
Peninsula offers expert advice on grievances and grievance procedures. Our teams offer 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our HR experts.
Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 029 4377 and book a free consultation with an HR consultant today.
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