Conflict in the workplace can hurt productivity, lower morale, potentially lead to costly tribunal claims and result in regretted leavers. To reduce the risk, organisations should ensure they have an up-to-date and legally compliant employee grievance procedure and a proactive HR presence.
I have called upon my many years of experience in HR to produce the following guide for employers. From the initial complaint to reaching a decision, discover the essential steps of a lawful grievance procedure, including your duties as an employer.
What is a grievance?
According to Acas, a grievance procedure is a formal route for an employee to highlight a serious work-related issue to their employer. Staff can raise a grievance for three reasons: the informal approach has not worked, they wish to make a formal complaint or the problem is deemed ‘very serious’
Common reasons for raising a grievance include health and safety fears, harassment from a colleague, issues with a manager and changes to working patterns or conditions.
Informal or formal complaint?
In the first instance, the member of staff should raise the matter informally with their supervisor, another manager or someone from HR. This can be done verbally and hopefully, swift action should often resolve the issue. However, if the employee is still not satisfied, they can then bring a formal complaint in writing – this is the signal for the employer to start an employee grievance procedure.
Employers should take every complaint seriously to prevent issues from escalating. This approach will prevent formal grievance procedures, and also maintain a positive working relationship with staff who will appreciate that their views are being heard.
Informal complaints can be dealt with in several ways and would involve HR and the line manager (unless the grievance is against them)
Regardless of the outcome, every informal grievance and the outcome needs to be recorded properly as it might be relevant if a formal grievance procedure is raised at a later date. Following up and monitoring the situation can also prevent problems from re-occurring.
Starting the formal employee grievance procedure
Once an employee makes a formal written complaint, the employer must invoke its formal grievance procedure. Employers must confirm receipt of the letter and invite the complainant to a formal grievance hearing. A Grievance Lead should be appointed and will be someone who is impartial and able to conduct a full and thorough investigation into the matter.
While Acas has published a Code of Practice which sets out the basic requirements of response which includes a formal meeting, investigation, outcome and right of appeal, companies should have a bespoke policy and set of procedures which reflect their culture. The policy should be updated regularly and be available to staff via online resources or paper handbooks.
Not following this process will increase the chances of the matter going to an employment tribunal and will likely influence the ultimate outcome.
Employee Grievance Procedures:
The investigation and hearing
The first step is to arrange a grievance hearing, ideally within five working days of the grievance being raised.
.The investigation hearing allows the complainant to thoroughly articulate the grievance, offering guidance to the Grievance Lead regarding individuals to consult and relevant information to gather.
It is recommended to conduct the session in a quiet, private setting to minimize interruptions. Comprehensive notes should be documented and provided to the employee for review and signature.
The investigation should be promptly carried out, and any delays stemming from witness availability communicated to the complainant, along with regular updates on the expected outcome date.
Following the gathering of all information, the Grievance Lead will assemble their findings and communicate the outcome, affording the complainant the right to appeal.
In the event if an appeal, the person appointed to lead this process should ideally hold a position a level above the Grievance Lead. In small companies, this is not always possible and advice should be sought as to who would be most appropriate.
The appeal investigation should consider the reasons presented by the complainant which will outline why they felt the outcome was unjust.
If there is conflict between members of staff, it would be wise to take steps to prevent matters from worsening while the grievance procedure takes place. For example, limit contact and possibly suspend an employee but make it clear that this is not due to disciplinary action.
The mediation route
In certain instances, the employer and employee might feel that the only way forward is to get the help of an independent mediator. Using a third-party can often help to reach a mutually agreeable solution. To do this, the grievance process must be paused and the employer needs to record the fact that mediation has begun.
Need help with an employee grievance procedure?
An essential element of handling a grievance is good communication, so that the employee is kept fully informed at every stage. In my experience, dealing with a complaint promptly and positively can significantly mitigate the original problem.
As an experienced HR consultant, I can assist organisations in effectively managing employee grievance procedures. My advice covers both the legal and HR elements of workplace disputes to reduce the risk of financial penalties and reputational damage.