How to Handle a Grievance: 5 Steps

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By Miranda Mulligan, Solicitor specialising in Employment law

Grievances are a commonplace occurrence in many businesses. Whilst many issues can be resolved informally the grievance process provides a mechanism for the employee to formally bring their concerns to the attention of the employer. Grievances should not be seen as adversarial; they are often a chance to repair the relationship between the parties with the hope that a resolution can be found. By resolving issues in this way, this can also avoid costly and time consuming litigation in the employment tribunal, often arising from issues which could have been resolved before the relationship has broken down.

Step 1 – Appoint an independent investigator

Once you have received the details of the employee’s grievance and have acknowledged it, the next step is to appoint an independent investigator to look into the employee’s complaints. The role of the investigator is to act fairly to establish the facts in an objective manner. The investigator should be someone who is entirely independent with no prior knowledge of the complaint. Although this can often be tricky in small businesses, the solution is often to appoint an external party.

Step 2 – Carry out the investigation

The investigator will carry out an investigation and should do so thoroughly and with a well thought out plan in mind. It is important at all times in the grievance process to keep records and notes of any meetings as this will help to alleviate the possibility of any dispute later on. The investigator should gather evidence from relevant witnesses including taking any witness statements and review any other relevant documents when preparing their initial findings. The investigator will prepare a report setting out the process and detailing their findings and this should be provided to the employee along with the supporting evidence prior to the grievance meeting. This will allow the employee a chance to consider all the evidence and give any feedback they may have.

Step 3 – Hold the grievance meeting

Once the employee has had the opportunity to consider the investigator’s report and any supporting evidence they should be asked to attend a meeting or grievance hearing. The employer should allow the employee to be accompanied to this meeting by a colleague or trade union representative. During this meeting the employee will be given an opportunity to provide their comments for the decision maker to take on board when making their decision. Often the decision maker and the investigator are the same individual, however it is good practice to appoint a separate decision-maker where possible to ensure there is impartiality in the decision making process. A sticking point is often what to do if, during a grievance meeting, additional information comes to light that warrants further investigation. The solution is to adjourn the grievance meeting and reconvene at a later time once further investigation has been carried out.

Step 4 – The outcome of the grievance

A fully reasoned and written outcome to the grievance should then be provided to the employee. The employee should be allowed the opportunity to appeal the outcome, which will usually occur if the grievance is not upheld in full or in part. It is good practice to allow 7 days for the employee to submit their appeal.

Step 5 – Appeal

Where possible all appeals should be heard by someone who was not involved in the original grievance process. The employer should set out the outcome of the grievance appeal in writing. This decision will be final.

The above steps are indicative, the employer should also ensure that they follow their own internal grievance procedure.

Please note the contents of this blog are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.