Dealing with Workplace Grievances

9 Aug

Understanding the nature of a complaint can be tricky, especially as our interpretation of complaints can sometimes be subjective. Knowing whether an employee is harmlessly moaning with no intention of seeking a resolution for the issue, or whether they are making a formal grievance can be hard to identify. In any event, negativity in the workplace can impact productivity, profitability and staff morale. It can even start to alter the entire culture of an organisation, which can be incredibly hard to reverse.

Dealing with grievances properly isn’t just a legal obligation, it’s best practice. Dealing with grievances quickly and fairly can minimise disruptions to the workplace, improve employee turnover, increase productivity, reduce the likelihood of legal action, reduce the cost of time that is used to deal with issues and foster a culture of trust and fairness within an organisation. The following steps outline the basics of dealing with workplace grievances.

Policies and Procedures

Every organisation should have a formal, written grievance procedure. This procedure should set out details of who to contact should an employee have an issue, the steps of the process and any time limits of each stage of the process. This should be outlined in the contract of employment/written statement of particulars, notifying the employee of the process to raise a grievance.

The full grievance procedure is usually contained within the Employee Handbook, but it may also be a stand-alone document. Having a clear procedure is important for both employers and employees. From an employer’s perspective, it can serve as a reminder of how each case should be dealt with consistently and fairly. From an employee’s perspective, it can provide clarity on what to expect as a result of the process, reducing uncertainty and worry.

Initiating the grievance procedure

In many instances, particularly where the employer is unsure as to whether the employee wishes to raise a formal grievance or is just having a general moan, it is advisable to try and deal with matters informally as a first port of call. An employer may wish to arrange a conversation with the employee to identify if the issue could potentially be dealt with informally and to explain the formal options available to them should an informal approach not be suitable or appropriate.

Where either the employer or the employee deems the issue more serious and thinks it requires a formal process, the employee should be encouraged to submit their grievance in writing in accordance with the organisation’s grievance procedure.

Investigating the grievance

Whilst not always necessary, there could be times when the employer/manager dealing with the grievance may be required to investigate, particularly if the grievance concerns other members of staff. Once a thorough investigation is complete, it’s good practice to organise a formal grievance hearing.

Holding a grievance hearing

Grievance hearings come with certain statutory requirements (processes an employer is legally obliged to follow). The employee must be allowed to be accompanied by either a colleague or a union representative. Where an employee requests to be accompanied by someone outside of these categories, the employer should assess the reasonableness of the request. For example, it would be reasonable to allow a young worker under 18 to be accompanied by a parent/guardian should they wish for this to happen.

Should the employee request a colleague that is due to work the same time as the hearing, the accompanying colleague has the right to paid time off to accompany a fellow colleague to most grievance hearings. At the hearing, the employee should be allowed to put forward their grievance and should be asked how they would like their issue to be resolved. Minutes which reflect an accurate representation of the contents of the hearing should be noted, retained and circulated to the relevant parties afterwards.

After the hearing

Following the hearing, the chair of the hearing will make their decision based on any previous investigation and the employee’s submission. An employer may decide to uphold the grievance in full, in part or reject it. If the decision is taken to uphold the grievance in full or in part, appropriate action may need to be taken following this decision, depending on the nature of the grievance.

The employer should write to the employee explaining their decision, any actions that will be taken following the grievance and giving the employee the option to appeal the decision. However, employers need to be careful that they do not breach the confidentiality of other members of staff. For example, it would be inappropriate to advise the person raising the grievance that the employer had given a colleague any form of disciplinary warning.

Further action

Ideally, any appeal should be handled by a separate senior member of staff who is impartial to the grievance/investigation so far. The employee should have been given the option to appeal the decision, generally within a time frame of five or seven days. However, strict time frames may be found to be unreasonable if there was a legitimate reason for the delay and employers should not automatically discount an out of time appeal.

Following receipt of an appeal, an appeal hearing should be arranged, again with the right to be accompanied. Any new evidence should be reviewed at this hearing, along with a revision of the decision in relation to the original grievance.

After the hearing, the employee should be notified in writing of the outcome of the appeal and the reasons for the decision made. Should an employee not accept the employer’s decision, they may pursue mediation or make a claim to an employment tribunal.

Need advice?

If you have any questions relating to the above or another issue, get in touch with our expert Employment Law team today on 02920 853794 or at