Handling an employee grievance correctly can mean the difference between successful resolution, or an escalation to an employment tribunal.
Having in place a clear grievance procedure, that is easily accessible for all employees and part of your employee handbook is a good place to start.
Equally important is the requirement to follow the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.
What is a Grievance?
The ACAS Code defines grievances as “concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employers”.
Handling Grievances in Stages
The Informal Route
Grievances should, wherever possible, be dealt with informally by the employee’s line manager. However, the procedure should allow for employees to raise grievances with someone other than their own manager, where the manager is the subject of the grievance.
Tackling Issues Promptly
Dealing promptly with issues raised, can often mean they are nipped in the bud and resolved without recourse to a formal procedure. That said, dealing with issues promptly, should not mean in haste, or without thorough investigation of the facts.
It is important to ensure that no employee suffers recrimination as a result of raising a genuine grievance.
Line managers are often not experienced in dealing with grievances, Should a formal grievance be raised, it is therefore advisable to seek professional HR advice to support and guide you through the process and to ensure you stay legally compliant and within the ACAS Code of Practice for disciplinary and grievance procedures.
Moving to the Formal Route
If issues are not resolved informally and a written, or otherwise formal grievance is received, arrange for a formal grievance hearing to be held without unreasonable delay and carry out investigations as appropriate and in the correct order.
The Right to be Accompanied
Inform the employee that they have the right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union rep’ (of his/her choice) at the formal grievance hearing (or appeal hearing).
The Grievance Hearing
At the hearing, allow the employee to explain the grievance and how he/she thinks it should be resolved.
Managers hearing grievances should be willing to listen to what the employee has to say and then seek to resolve the matter in a way that is satisfactory to the employee, wherever possible.
It is helpful to ask the employee at the outset of the meeting, what outcome he/she is looking for and then consider, once the evidence at hand, whether this is deliverable.
Adjourning the Meeting
Adjourning the grievance meeting will allow for any further investigation deemed necessary.
Deciding and Communicating the Outcome of the Grievance
After the meeting and any further investigations undertaken, decide what action, if any, should be taken.
Communicate the decision to the employee in writing, as soon as possible after the grievance hearing.
The employee raising the grievance has the right to receive a response to their grievance, even if it is not the response, he/she would have wanted.
The Right to Appeal
Inform the employee of their right to appeal, should they feel their grievance has not been satisfactorily dealt with, or resolved.
During an appeal, employers are obliged to:
hear the appeal without unreasonable delay
arrange for the appeal to be dealt with impartially by a manager not previously involved in the case – ideally someone more senior
communicate the outcome of the appeal to the employee in writing without unreasonable delay
where appropriate, send out a letter stating the matter is now closed and there is no further right of appeal (the ACAS Code requires only one level of appeal following a grievance)
Confidentiality should be respected throughout the process and failure to follow rules of confidentiality can in itself, lead to disciplinary matters.
Grievances related to Disciplinary Sanctions
Where an employee has a grievance that relates to a disciplinary sanction, he/she should not use the grievance procedure, but instead raise an appeal under the disciplinary procedure.
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