Real Employment Law Advice

How to handle an employee grievance

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Not sure how to handle an employee grievance? Do you need some direction?

Dealing with grievances does not have to be painful, if you follow a fair procedure and communicate with the employee it will be over before you know it!

A grievance is any concern, complaint or issue which is raised by an employee and which is set out in writing.

In order to be a grievance it does not have to necessarily state that it is a ‘grievance’, and therefore if you receive a letter of complaint or which contains complaints it is advisable to ask the employee if they would like the matter to be dealt with in accordance with your grievance procedure.

There is no requirement for an employee to raise a grievance before making a claim in the Employment Tribunal, however if they don’t their compensation may be reduced.

How should I deal with a grievance?

1.      Meeting with the Employee

When you receive a grievance from an employee it is advisable to consider who would be the most appropriate person in your organisation to investigate and deal with the grievance.

If the grievance is about a manager or other members of staff they would not be appropriate to investigate. In a small organisation this can present difficulties and whilst you could justify the decision if there is no-one else available, it is advisable to have someone external to investigate.

If there is sufficient information contained within the grievance letter to begin an investigation then the grievance should be acknowledged and enquires started.

In any event the employee should be invited to an investigation meeting which will give them the opportunity to explain the grievance in more detail and for you to ask questions about anything which isn’t clear.

The meeting is also a good opportunity to ask the employee what they want the outcome of the meeting to be.

If further investigation is required it may be necessary to adjourn the meeting and reconvene at a later date.

Right to bring a companion

The employee has the right to be accompanied at the meeting by a trade union representative or work colleague.

Your own policy may allow for someone else to accompany the employee, and it is at your discretion to grant permission if the employee request to be accompanied by someone other than a work colleague or trade union representative.

2.      Investigate the grievance

Following the meeting it may be necessary to investigate the grievance further and/or make further enquiries about the points raised by the employee.

Whilst careful consideration should be given to the issues raised and evidence available, you are not required to carry out a criminal level investigation, and therefore your investigation need only be reasonable and fair.

3.      Deliver the outcome of the grievance investigation

Once you have reached a conclusion to the grievance investigation your findings should be communicated to the employee in writing.

You may merely state whether each part of the grievance is upheld or not, but it is advisable to give some explanation as to how you have reached the decision and the conclusions made.

If there are any action points resulting from your investigation then these should be communicated to the employee and followed up to ensure action is taken.

The employee should also be informed of their right to appeal.

4.      Appeal

If the employee is not satisfied with the outcome of the grievance investigation they have the right to appeal.

The appeal should be in writing and specify the grounds for appeal. If the employee does not give details of the reason for their appeal then these should be requested in writing from the employee for consideration prior to the appeal meeting.

Where possible the appeal should be dealt with by someone impartial and who has not been involved in the grievance investigation. If this is not possible, you should consider arranging for a third party to carry out the appeal meeting.

Once someone has been allocated to deal with the appeal the employee should be invited to an appeal meeting. You should avoid unnecessary delay in the process where possible.

It is advisable to deliver the outcome of the appeal to the employee following the meeting either by asking them to wait for the decision or in writing afterwards.

What effect does the ACAS code of Practice have?

Where you fail to follow the minimum procedure set out in the ACAS code of practice in respect of grievances the Employment Tribunal may increase the employee’s compensation by up to 25%.

If on the other hand the employee unreasonably fails to follow it, the tribunal may reduce their compensation by up to 25%.

Your own internal grievance procedure should include the minimum requirements of the ACAS code.

How do I deal with former employees?

There is no requirement in the ACAS Code to follow a grievance procedure where you receive a grievance from a former employee.

If you receive a grievance from a former employee it is recommended that you consider investigating the grievance and perhaps have an adjusted procedure which does not involve the requirement for a meeting with the employee.

Depending upon the content of the grievance it may be an indication that they intend to pursue a claim in the Employment Tribunal, in which case you should seek some advice before proceeding.

What do I do if the employee raises a grievance during a disciplinary procedure?

It is commonplace for employees to decide to raise a grievance when they are faced with a disciplinary procedure.

If this happens you should consider how best to deal with the grievance, and depending upon the substance of the grievance you may decide to suspend the disciplinary procedure and deal with the grievance first.

If however the issues in the grievance are related to the disciplinary you could deal with them together. If you deal with it in this manner it is advisable to make it clear to the employee and provide the outcomes in separate letters.

What do I do if the employee complains about something and then says they do not want to raise a formal grievance?

This will depend upon the details of the grievance and the issues raised. It may be that you have an obligation to the employee to investigate in any event.

For example the employee claims that they are overworked and stressed out, if you fail to investigate and deal with this appropriately and the employee later has a breakdown you may have some liability issues.

Where the employee does not want to co-operate you should confirm in writing to them that they had the opportunity to participate in the formal grievance procedure but refused to do so.

Any informal investigations or discussions that take place should also be documented.

What about using Mediation?

Mediation is not a requirement of the ACAS code of practice, nor will it be appropriate in every case, however it can be an effective tool for resolving difficult issues and grievances.

Mediation works well when there are issues between two members of staff or between an employee and manager.

It is strongly recommended that you use an independent trained mediator to conduct the mediation.

I am a trained workplace mediator and am available to mediate at a very reasonable rate. If you would like more information please contact me .

Practical Tips to improve the way you deal with grievances

  • Have a clear grievance procedure which is available to employees. If you do not have one you can purchase a grievance procedure from my document shop, which is easy to use and adapt to your business.
  • Give appropriate training to managers on how to deal with grievance issues. I am able to offer grievance training for managers from 1 hour sessions through to a full day. For more information about the rates please email me .
  • Keep good written records of meetings, informal discussions and of when issues arise.
  • Give full reasons for your decisions.
  • Develop a culture of openness and communication within your organisation.
  • Build team relationships to avoid grievances arising.
  • Be pro-active in dealing with minor issues so that they do not blow into major grievances.

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