How do I deal with investigation meetings and grievance hearings?
For the person who has been allocated responsibility for investigating the grievance it can be a difficult process, and many investigators I have spoken to find grievance investigation meetings particularly hard.
Grievance hearings will be with the employee who raised the grievance originally and any investigation meetings with witnesses or other employees involved.
The key thing to remember is that it is likely to be very stressful for the employees involved and your role is to behave fairly and in a neutral manner.
Should the meeting with the employee who raised the grievance come first or last?
The ACAS code of practice states that the meeting should be held without unreasonable delay and all parties should make every effort to attend.
It is important to check what your own internal procedure states regarding timescales for meetings and for completion of the investigation.
It is a good idea when putting your investigation plan together (see the getting started article here ) to consider what order you need to hold the meeting.
If the initial grievance has very little information in it about the substance of the grievance you should hold the grievance hearing at the very start.
The purpose of the meeting is to obtain more information from the employee to enable you to investigate the issue. You may have to have a further meeting later on once you have undertaken some of the investigation process in order to clarify or discuss any points that have arisen.
It is important to explain to the employee that you will probably need to have a further meeting with them.
If the initial grievance notification includes sufficient information you may decide to put the investigation meeting further along in your plan. If you decide to do it this way then it is important to inform the employee and give your reasoning.
What if the employee says they are not fit to attend the meeting?
In many cases employees raise a grievance whilst they are off sick from work, or they are subsequently signed off sick after raising the grievance, often due to the stress of the issue that you are investigating.
If an employee is signed off sick you must consider any advice from their GP and any medical history.
I recommend that you contact the employee and explain, in order to fully investigate their grievance, you need to discuss with them as part of the process. You could make the following adjustments to the process in order to enable them to engage in the process:
• hold the meeting in a neutral location away from the workplace;
• hold the meeting at their home;
• deal with the meeting by telephone;
• allow the employee to respond to your questions and provide further information in writing.
What if the employee refuses to engage in the process at all?
If you have put the various adjustments detailed above to the employee and they still refuse to engage in the process you can delay the investigation pending their return to fitness or proceed without their input.
In cases of short term absence where the reason for their ill health is not related to the substance of the grievance it would be advisable to place the meeting and investigation on hold. If you proceed this way, then you should ensure that you inform the employee of what you are doing.
Where the substance of the grievance is causing the employee’s ill health it is not advisable to delay the process. For example, where an employee is absent from work due to work related stress and their grievance is that they have been given an excessive work load by their line manager, the only way that this is going to be resolved is for the grievance to be concluded.
If you are in any doubt about an employee’s capacity and ability to attend a meeting or engage in the grievance investigation it is advisable to obtain medical information from their Doctor specifically dealing with this. You can write to the employees Doctor, with their permission, and ask if, in their opinion the employee is fit to engage in a grievance meeting, for example.
Does an employee have the right to be accompanied at an investigation meeting / hearing?
There is no general legal right for an employee to be accompanied at an investigation meeting however you may consider this as an important adjustment for employees who may be unwell, have a disability or whose first language is not English.
There are also some circumstances in which an employee or worker has the right to be accompanied to a grievance hearing and therefore if an employee requests to be accompanied at the hearing I strongly recommend that you allow them to bring someone.
Aside from fulfilling a legal obligation (if the circumstances are such that it is necessary) it will ultimately assist you and the investigation if the employee feels more comfortable and at ease by having a companion with them.
As long as you make clear to the companion their role at the meeting and their obligations of confidentiality it should not cause you difficulty by having someone else present.
The employees companion should be allowed to participate in the meeting by making representations for the employee and conferring with them when necessary. The companion should not answer questions on the employee’s behalf or behave inappropriately in the meeting.
What do I need to do in an investigation meeting?
Start the meeting by explaining:
• Your name and role;
• The name of anyone accompanying you and the reason they are at the meeting;
• The reason why you want to meet with the employee;
• What will happen in the meeting;
• The importance of confidentiality regarding the process;
• The fact that it is only an investigation at this stage and therefore you do not know what will happen afterwards as it will depend on the outcome;
• What will happen with their evidence and who will have access to it.
I also recommend that you address the issue of covert recording of the meeting. It should be made clear that covert recording of the meeting is not acceptable and if it is later found that the employee has recorded the meeting without permission of those present it will result in disciplinary action.
You are trying to gather the facts about the situation and it is recommended that you use open questions and do not try to lead the employee with your questioning.
It is recommended that you finalise the meeting by asking if the employee has anything else they want to add and if they know of any other witnesses or persons who should be interviewed as part of the investigation.
3. Meeting Notes / Statement
You can either present the meeting notes in the format of a Statement and ask the employee to agree and sign following the meeting or you can prepare them as meeting notes and request that the employee sign and agree they are true.
Whichever way you choose to present the evidence from the employee they should be given the opportunity to review following the meeting, and amend as necessary. If there is any dispute about what was said and what is written, then keep the original copy and note the differences in opinion. Ask the employee to sign the copy which contains their version of the discussion.