With the challenges of remote working and employee concerns and worries about returning to workplace post Covid, confident handling of employee grievances must be a key part of every line manager’s skill set. This is a 5 step guide to handling an employee grievance swiftly and effectively in order to save management time, preserve employee relations and keep the business out of Employment Tribunals. It includes two golden rules of handling employee grievances to successful resolution.
Grievances are concerns, problems or complaints raised by an employee about workplace issues such as their work, workload, where they work or who they work with. These grievances are best dealt with at an early stage informally, but employers must be prepared to handle employee grievances that cannot be resolved informally using a formal employee grievance procedure.
In the current Covid situation many employees have additional worries and concerns about being in the workplace again or travelling to and from work. They may have specific medical or situational reasons for these concerns, for example that they or someone they live with is vulnerable in medical terms. The employer will not and cannot be expected to solve all such worries, but employers will be required to consider in a reasonable way any such concerns raised via a grievance process.
It is also possible that issues have become magnified whilst people have been working remotely. For some employees, isolation from their colleagues may have led to heightened unhappiness with issues and employers may find themselves dealing with more grievances than usual. Conversely, for some employees, working remotely may have been a more positive situation and it will be the return to the office environment that causes them more concern.
It’s important for every business, whatever its size, to have a formal grievance procedure in place, which takes into account the ACAS Code of Practice. The Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures is recognised by Tribunals as the best practice way of handling a grievance situation and can be used alongside the Acas step by step guides on formal grievance and disciplinary procedures. Include your formal grievance procedure in the staff handbook, and, importantly ensure your staff are aware of it. Employers have a duty to provide staff with details of any workplace disciplinary and grievance procedures.
Discipline and Grievance – Acas Code of Practice
The procedure should require the employee to set out in writing the nature of their grievance and for employers to deal with the grievance fairly and consistently. Do not ignore any concern or complaint raised by an employee, however casual the manner in which it was raised.
These are the 5 steps:
- Informal Action. Initially and as soon as they can the line manager should have a quiet word with the employee making the complaint. Problems can often be settled quickly and informally in the course of everyday work. This may be one of the problems that has arisen during lockdown – the lack of normal day to day interaction at work to resolve issues as they arise. Employer can respond to verbal grievances with a verbal response, but keep a note of what is said.
However, if the grievance is not settled at this stage or circumstances make this route inappropriate, then, if they have not already done so, the employee should be requested to submit a formal grievance letter.
- Invite employee to a formal meeting. This should be held in a private and confidential room between the Manager designated to hear the Grievance and the employee who may be accompanied by a work colleague or Trade Union official. This is the opportunity for the grievance to be thoroughly discussed and any witnesses called.
- Investigation. Depending on the complexity of the grievance it may be necessary to adjourn the meeting so that further investigation may take place before any decision is taken.
- Communicate Decision and complete records. After the grievance meeting and any investigations have taken place, the employer needs to decide whether to uphold or dismiss the grievance and communicate this decision to the employee in writing without unreasonable delay, usually within 10 working days. The HR Director or Manager handling the employee grievance must ensure that the minutes of all formal grievance meetings are taken and copies given to the employee for information. The minute taker should not be part of the discussions about the outcome of the grievance or appeal other than to record the key points of the discussion.
- Appeal. if the Grievance is rejected or partially rejected then the employee has the right to appeal against that decision. The appeal should be heard promptly and wherever possible by a Manager not previously involved in the case. The employee may be accompanied as before and notified in writing of the decision, again within 10 working days is standard practice.
Two golden rules when handling employee grievances to successful resolution
- A very helpful question to ask an employee raising a grievance is “what outcome do you want from this grievance?” This tends to focus the employee’s mind on the solution he or she is looking for rather than just the problem.
- Be prepared for a grievance. Check that there is an up to date procedure in place, published in the handbook, that supports the resolution of grievance issues in your workplace.
Please also note an employee can raise a grievance during a disciplinary process. The disciplinary process may be temporarily suspended or if the grievance and disciplinary cases are related it may be appropriate to deal with both issues concurrently. The size of the business may require an expert outside advisor e.g experienced HR professional to hear the Grievance, the Appeal or even the Disciplinary.
Bear in mind also that where the Grievance Procedure itself is not appropriate then with the employee’s consent an external Mediator might be more suitable.
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