What’s the best way to handle a grievance?
The best way to handling a grievance depends on two things: the nature of the grievance and the person or people concerned. These two factors must be taken into account at the outset. Using a ‘one size fits all’ policy or procedure is not the way forward. It can escalate a fairly trivial situation or fail to resolve a more significant one. This is why the ACAS Code is so vague. It is entirely up to an employer how they handle a grievance (as long as some very basic steps are followed).
So how do you know how to respond correctly?
The starting point in all cases is to look at how serious is the complaint and what are the potential consequences. This should be done ‘behind closed doors’ and as confidentially as possible. Look at whether it is a complaint that could lead to a tribunal claim or a dismissal. If it is, you need to plan carefully. Who is going to investigate the concerns, who is going to make the outcome decision and who is going to handle the appeal? All three individuals could be required to give evidence in an employment tribunal, so choose carefully.
How quickly can you act?
Employment tribunals expect businesses to take grievances seriously and act as quickly as possible. If a manager is going to be away, or is just too busy, he is not the right choice.
Initial discussion with the employee
The initial discussion/meeting/correspondence with the employee raising the grievance or concern can make all the difference. It sets the tone for how the matter will be handled. The initial discussion should be informal and provide a description of the process, what is involved and what the possible outcomes might be. It can also explore alternative dispute resolution options. Even in the case of a very serious grievance, the employee may not have considered the consequences of pursuing it and may wish to look at other ways of resolving matters.
If the case may end up in a tribunal or involve a dismissal, it is worth considering using a professional independent investigator. A good investigator can uncover what is genuinely going on and advise you before committing anything to paper. This gives you the maximum chance to protect your business. If they are sufficiently qualified, they can advise you in relation to mediation, settlement agreements and other alternative dispute resolution options.
Less Serious Grievances
If you assess the grievance or complaint and it is not likely to lead to an employment tribunal claim, you need the flexibility to address it in the best interests of your business. You can offer the employee less confrontational options to resolve matters, including mediation, moving roles, changing duties or some other appropriate solution.
Flexible Grievance Procedures
Your grievance procedure should be very flexible so that it can be adapted to suit the particular situation you are facing. This means it should be brief and not overly procedural. It should not commit you to anything other than genuinely trying to find a fair solution for all concerned. I see grievance procedures that go on for pages and tie the employer and its managers in knots. Why would you do this to your business when there is no need? If you would like to see an example of a fully flexible grievance procedure, please contact me and I will happily send one to you.
The real key to successfully handling grievances is good management training and, if you would like my assistance with this, please contact me.