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The right way to deal with grievances


In the run up to Christmas, you may find yourself with some disgruntled employees after seeing the roster for the next couple of months to deal with the festive period’s demands. Handling grievances quickly and efficiently can result in you maintaining good employment relationships. This prevents small issues escalating to bigger problems and avoiding claims in Employment Tribunals. 

Below we provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to deal with employees’ grievances. Guidance and support like this is always available to you at bira legal.

1. Try to resolve the issue informally

If one of your employees is unhappy about something, they should raise their concern, problem or complaint with their line manager. The reasons for such complaints can be wide-ranging, for example, bullying, harassment, discrimination or unfair treatment. Other reasons include relationships with colleagues or management, remuneration, health and safety, changes in the workplace or to terms and conditions of employment.

As a first step, do not ignore or disregard an employee’s complaint. It is crucial for line managers to listen to the employee and try to resolve any grievance informally. In many cases, the issue can be resolved quickly and efficiently by talking through the problem and without resorting to formal procedures.

2. If it can’t be dealt with informally…

If the matter cannot be resolved informally, the employee should raise a grievance by making a written complaint. The employee should provide as much information as they can about their grievance.

Generally, a grievance will be dealt with by the individual’s line manager. However, in cases where the grievance is directly concerned with the line manager’s comments or actions, the employee should make their grievance to another appropriate person, such as another senior manager. This manager can arrange for somebody who is not directly involved to deal with the grievance.

3. Arrange a grievance hearing

You should arrange a grievance hearing as quickly as possible and without any unreasonable delay. When preparing the meeting, you should consider:

  • whether any reasonable adjustments are necessary for a disabled person
  • in cases where the employee’s first language is not English, whether you need to arrange an interpreter
  • organising a person to take notes – this person should have no involvement in the case
  • how similar grievances have been dealt with in the past as this will help ensure that grievances are dealt in a fair and consistent way

4. Hold the meeting and carry out an investigation

At the meeting, the manager should give the employee the opportunity to fully explain their grievance and how they wish the matter to be resolved.

The meeting should be carried out by a manager who has no involvement whatsoever to the case. The employee also has the right to be accompanied by a fellow colleague or a trade union representative.

The manager will need to consider whether the matter can be resolved immediately or whether the hearing should be adjourned to carry out an investigation to establish all the relevant facts. This could involve talking to all parties involved, speaking to witnesses, acquiring documents and gathering evidence. Once the investigation has finished, it may be appropriate for the meeting to be resumed to give the employee an opportunity to comment on the evidence and findings that came out of the investigation.

5. Decide what action to take

The action you decide to take will depend on the grievance. Examples include taking disciplinary action, changing the employee’s working hours or moving the employee to another department or team.

You should inform the employee of the decision you have made to resolve the grievance and their right to appeal. This should be done in writing.

6. Employee appeals decision

If the employee appeals the decision, an appeal hearing will be arranged and should be conducted by an appropriate person in the senior management team. Ideally, this person will not have been previously involved in the case. As with the previous meeting, the employee has the right to be accompanied.

The outcome of any appeal will be final.

Other important points to consider

  • Keep a record of what grievance was raised, what action was taken, whether there was an appeal and the outcome of the appeal.
  • In cases where an employee is making complaints and allegations of other employees’ misconduct, you may need to conduct an investigation to ascertain the truth behind these allegations and pursue the matter via your disciplinary procedures.
  • Where an employee raises a grievance during a disciplinary process, it may be appropriate for the disciplinary process to be temporarily suspended whilst the grievance is concluded. However, this will depend on the content of the grievance and the disciplinary process. Other options may include dealing with both concurrently or even dealing with some of the issues at the disciplinary hearing. The issues raised as a grievance here are effectively the employee’s defence.

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Written By: Sonia Tse, Employment Law Adviser at Ellis Whittam

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