A grievance in its most obvious form, may be a letter or e-mail received from an employee regarding a concern with any element of their employment, this could be simply be a clause in their terms and conditions or contract, a task they have been asked to carry out, or a conflict with a colleague or manager at work.
What the law says:
The key piece of employment legislation that outlines the statutory Grievance Procedures that you should follow is detailed in the Employment Rights Act (1998), however other important legislation that you should be mindful of when considering a Grievance is the Equality Act 2010 which details the a number of characteristics (sex, age, disability etc) which give employees additional protected against detrimental behaviour or discrimination. For example, if an employee intimates in a grievance that they feel discriminated on because of their age, this gives a clear indicator that they may try to claim compensation for their alleged loss. It is always good to bear in mind that discrimination doesn’t have to be as a direct result of the protected characteristic, it can be indirect. Meaning that whilst you might not purposefully to treat an older or younger worker less favourably, indirectly your actions could still place one group in a worse position.
I’ve had a written complaint from an employee, but it doesn’t state in the e-mail/letter that it is a grievance, do I still need to treat it as one?
That really depends on what the complaint is about. Unless there are serious issues raised causing significant stress and anxiety e.g. bullying, we would recommend that you attempt to resolve the concerns through informal discussion. However do make sure you record the informal discussion and what you agree, as the employee could try and claim later on that you took no action, and that it was in fact a grievance. If following informal discussions the employee remains dissatisfied or they are not willing to engage informally, then formal consideration of the issues should be provided, and a formal grievance meeting arranged. Likewise if the grievance makes serious allegations, then it is safest to instigate the formal process straight away.
I’ve received a grievance from my employee, what do I do now?
Firstly, we would recommend you speak to the employee informally, one to one, and try and discuss the situation seeking informal resolution. If the employee at this stage isn’t interested in an informal discussion, then you are required to invite them to a formal meeting, giving them the opportunity to be accompanied by a colleague or Union Representative. Following the meeting you must confirm the discussion and agreed outcomes in writing and also provide the opportunity to appeal.
Before the Meeting
Give reasonable notice of 24-48 hours should be provided to the employee to ensure they have adequate time to prepare.
How should I run the formal grievance meeting?
Start by explaining that this is a meeting to fully understand the concerns that have been raised in their letter, and is their opportunity to put forward the issues that they have. Advise them that the purpose of the meeting is to identify the problems, and to understand how they would like the situation resolved. Check whether the employee has had their letter inviting to them to the meeting and explaining their right to be accompanied.
A useful opening questions is, ‘Can you take me through in your own time, what specifically you are unhappy with, providing examples and as much information as possible.’
Try and ask questions to understand the history of events and the concerns, and if the individual doesn’t provide examples, ask for them.
They key question, which is often forgotten is: “How would you like to see this situation resolved?”
It is fine to use this opportunity to educate the employee on the reasons why certain policies or actions have been taken by the business. The grievance procedure is an opportunity to thrash out any misunderstandings.
Once you have gone through the detail, we recommend that you will need time to digest the information, and when necessary undertake an investigation. So advise the employee that you need to look into their concerns, and give them an idea of when you will go back to them. In some simple cases, you will be able to confirm the outcome verbally and then follow up in writing.
For grievance matters to be handled successfully, it’s important for the issue to be kept as confidential as possible. Don’t share information with anyone unless it is necessary.
Why do they get to appeal?
In order for the process to be considered fair the employee needs to be able to challenge a decision that could impact their future employment. It is always best to get someone else to hear the appeal, but that is not always possible in small businesses. Therefore if there is no-one else then you need hear the appeal, and try and be as objective as possible.
“Open Mind”, Try not to take it personally that a grievance has been raised, be open to change if that is what is best for your business.
“Be objective”- Don’t act emotionally or when you are angry. The best way to deal with Grievance issues is calmly and objectively. We know that is easier said than done, but if necessary take 24 hours to calm down before you address the issue.
“Keep records”- If a Grievance decision is challenged your notes and records will be invaluable to show that you have acted fairly and reasonably, save them into Citrus for safe keeping.
“Don’t argue”- You may disagree with a point but don’t get into an argument about it, you can state that you disagree but that their opinion has been noted.