As employers, we should understand that it takes no small amount of courage for an employee to raise a grievance, even if it is done informally. We need to recognise that he or she has a problem about an aspect of their working life that is no small matter to them. We need to address their concerns, but how?
The starting point is to have a written grievance procedure, but what should be in it? The guidance from ACAS is to have a reasonable procedure. It really comes down to common sense, and applying the principles of natural justice. If it feels right, it probably is right.
Raising grievances informally:
Common sense dictates that it is best to resolve problems before they escalate and could potentially get out of control. Providing a mechanism whereby an employee can raise an issue informally with their manager is an essential requirement of your grievance procedure. It enables you to nip the problem in the bud, but if that is not possible at least you are aware of the seriousness of the problem.
Formal grievance procedure:
Your grievance procedure should set out clearly what the employee has to do to raise a grievance, and to whom they must send it. The guidance from ACAS is that grievances should be made in writing. However, this should not be applied to rigidly. The important thing is to recognize that a grievance has been raised.
Managers should also be alert to the fact that neither case law nor ACAS guidance specifies what form the writing must take, nor do they say what it must contain, or who may give it. All that is required to initiate your grievance procedure is a written communication from or on behalf of the employee, the contents of which are sufficient to show that the employee has a grievance. The word “grievance” does not have to be used.
What action should you take?
Your grievance procedure should set out, in general terms, the steps you will take on receiving a grievance and provide confirmation that the matter will be dealt with without undue delay. Typically, the first step is for you to meet with the employee to get a better understanding of the issues.
Not all employees are able to adequately explain their complaint, and many will be in need of support throughout what, for them, is a difficult time. A reasonable grievance procedure will provide for the employee to have a companion at these meetings who may be a colleague or a trade union representative.
Your grievance procedure should state that the complaint will be investigated. You should meet with the employee again as soon as is convenient after the completion of your investigation. At this meeting you should discuss your findings with the employee and advise him or her of what action you intend to take. If appropriate, obtain their agreement to your proposed course of action. It is good practice to confirm your decision in writing.
What if the employee does not accept your decision?
Some employees will have unrealistic expectations about the outcome. Even if they are more realistic, they may be disappointed with the result. That is why your grievance procedure should have an appeal mechanism. Ideally, and based on the principles of natural justice, the appeal should be heard by a more senior manager who has not previously been previously been involved in the matter. This may not be possible in very small businesses or those organisations with a flat management structure. In which case, it would be appropriate to delegate hearing the appeal including the decision making power, to an independent person such as an external human resources professional, or other professional person other than a lawyer.
Your grievance procedure should provide for the employee to have a companion with them at the appeal meeting in the same way as they did at the earlier meetings. The decision of the appeal meeting should be confirmed to the employee in writing. They should also be told that the decision of the appeal meeting is the end of your internal grievance procedure.
You will have a reasonable grievance procedure if your policy covers all of the above points.