If a member of your staff brought up a grievance, would you know how to handle it? Regardless of how good your people practices may be,, how capable your managers are or how positive your intentions of resolving something amicably might be, the time may come when find yourself in a situation whereby you need to follow a formal grievance procedure.

The good news is that this is rare in most companies with positive engagement to be in this situation (in fact a WERS study in 2011 found that more positive approaches to employee relations were found in companies where ACAS codes of grievance were not used. Go figure!). The bad news is that when things get to this stage and a gripe becomes formal and someone invokes the procedure, you have less of a chance of resolving the matter amicably, it can take seemingly forever to resolve (average is 4 days per issue - CIPD) and it sucks the blood out of any employment relationship.

Nevertheless, if someone feels that - whether it is due to perceptions or bad communication or something downright wrong - everyone has the right to follow it. This procedure should be documented somewhere people can access (handbook?) and - crucially if it's got to this stage - it should always be followed to the letter.

There are many articles written on how to promote positive working relationships - and we believe that by focussing on that you are less likely to get issues on this side of the fence - however here, we’re going to outline the five critical steps that you need to cover if all else fails:

  1. Informal discussion: All grievances should be taken seriously, so it’s vital that you address the problem head-on rather than attempt to brush the issue under the carpet, in the hope that it will just disappear or fix itself. They won't. Still though, there’s no need to blow things out of proportion. Many problems can be handled with an informal chat between the employee and their manager. If a suitable outcome can’t be reached, then the employee should be asked to submit a formal written grievance (email or letter), if they haven’t already done so.
  2. Formal meeting: At this stage, the issue needs to be discussed in more depth. The meeting should of course be held in a confidential setting, chaired by the manager designated to handle the full grievance process, and the employee who's raised the grievance should be advised that they can bring along a colleague or trade union rep. Collect as much information as possible, and ask plenty of questions. It’s always wise to remain impartial, and treat the meeting as a fact-finding mission before going away to tie up loose ends and verify the finer details.
  3. Investigation: If the issues being discussed are particularly complex, then it may be necessary for you to pause proceedings for a short period of time to gather more information, and cross-reference the accounts that you’ve received. Though it’s important that you’re thorough here, be mindful that the time is ticking. Having unresolved grievance procedures ticking on can have a real, tangible negative impact on your workforce. Wherever possible, give your employee a date that they can expect to hear the outcome by. Managing expectations is critical, and shows that you’re treating the situation with importance.
  4. Make and communicate your final decision: At this stage, the employer must decide whether to uphold or dismiss the grievance. The decision should be communicated to the employee in writing, and they should also be provided with notes and minutes from any formal grievance meetings that were held as part of the process. To fulfill your obligations here, you’ll need to make sure that all paperwork is carefully collated throughout the procedure. It should go without saying that your records need to be timely, accurate, and confidential.
  5. Offer the right to appeal:  It would be easy to assume that once the final decision has been communicated, everything is done and dusted. This isn’t the case though. You need to offer the option of an appeal, which would essentially restart the entire process if they chose to take that route. To minimise the potential impact of bias, the case should be handed over to another manager (wherever possible).

The very nature of grievances procedures means that they can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. Still though, they’re sometimes unavoidable, and you need to be sure that you can handle the situation in line with your responsibilities as an employer when things get messy.

If you’re handling a particularly contentious grievance procedure, or it’s your first time navigating your way through the process, then bringing in some external help from an HR professional could help you to ease the load, and get the best possible outcome. To have an initial chat about how we could work together, get in touch today.

Feeling like a bit of a boost in the Leadership department? Don't forget also to check out our new eBook, Leadership 101: Your Ultimate Guide to Being an Inspirational Leader

Photo Credit: Complaint Dept 

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