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A member of staff has raised a grievance. What do we do?

Staff grievance – getting the investigation right

The first question is: do you have a written grievance procedure? Within the written statement of terms and conditions that an employer is required to give to an employee, it needs to be made clear how an employee can raise a grievance, should he or she wish to do so. By having a written procedure this makes it much easier to get the principles of good grievance management right.  It also helps employees by making it clear what a staff grievance is and what will happen if a grievance is raised.

It should be possible for most grievances to be dealt with informally by a line manager.  However, for occasions where this is not possible, your staff grievance procedure should explain how an employee can raise a grievance formally.

Grievances can be very damaging, particularly if they’re handled badly.  If everyone involved in the grievance is committed to achieving a solution that is a huge advantage.  Occasionally, however, an employee may raise a grievance against another employee and this type of situation can become emotional for both of them.  A focused but understanding approach is best when dealing with these situations.  If one of your managers has excellent interpersonal skills, consider using him/her to hear and investigate the grievance.

Next steps in the grievance process

In terms of process, the first thing to do is arrange a grievance hearing with the employee who has raised a grievance.  The purpose of the meeting is to establish exactly what the problems are and how they have disadvantaged the employee.  It’s important to get details of incidents, witnesses, dates and times so that you can verify these when continuing your investigations.

When you write to the employee, you should use neutral language and ensure you notify the employee that they have a right to be accompanied at the hearing by a work colleague or trade union representative.

How do we get the grievance investigation right? 

One thing that managers often forget to ask the employee who raised the grievance is what they believe the solution is or what they expect the outcome will be.  While a good investigation is about establishing the facts around a particular issue, it can be useful to know what the employee wants in terms of a resolution.

You may find that the right solution is easily achievable – for example, changing a policy to reflect better practice.  If, after investigation, your employee’s expectations are unrealistic or their perceptions mistaken, you will need to bear this in mind in considering any outcome at a later stage.

Some employees use the staff grievance procedure to raise complaints of bullying behaviour or other types of misconduct.  In this case, you will need to establish initially: (a) whether the situation merits suspension or removal in some other way of the employee who is accused of the behaviour; and (b) whether you have an alternative policy that’s more appropriate to follow (bullying and harassment, discipline etc).

Here are our pointers on conducting a fair and thorough grievance process: 

  • Make sure that written records are taken at the grievance hearing and all further interviews that you need to undertake.  You should allow each individual employee to check the content of the record relevant to them and ask them to state that they believe the record is correct and sign it.
  • Prepare your questions in advance.  Ensure that they are not leading or suggestive in any way.  It’s important that you don’t form a view until you’ve gathered all of the evidence that you need, particularly if a complaint of bullying or harassment is raised.
  • Verify details against records or other pieces of information. If an employee says that they have been denied training opportunities, check their training records and the relevance of the courses to their role.
  • Employees who are upset or angry may not always give an accurate account of what happened.  It’s important to find ways to make you feel satisfied that you know, as far as is possible, what actually did happen.
  • Time is often a problem in terms of investigating grievances.  The manager who is undertaking the task is often required to fit this in alongside all of their other responsibilities and can often find that the process takes longer than anticipated.  In those circumstances, a phone call to the employee who raised the grievance will go a long way.  However, don’t allow grievance investigations to drag out as this is likely to make matters worse.  If you don’t have the time or experience internally to conduct a thorough grievance investigation, we recommend you outsource it.

How do we know when a grievance investigation is complete? 

This has to be a matter of judgement.  However, a good rule of thumb is: if the investigating manager is still unclear on certain aspects of the grievance, the investigation isn’t complete.  The manager should be confident that everyone who was involved has been interviewed and that each aspect of the grievance can be addressed fully.

Once the grievance investigation is complete, it’s advisable to invite the aggrieved employee to a meeting to discuss the evidence.  Following this, you should put the outcome in writing to the employee and give him or her the right to appeal.

As well as dealing with issues informally, other positive initiatives can include three-way meetings to resolve differences and considering mediation.

A useful resource for employers without a grievance procedure is the ACAS code of practice on Grievance and Discipline.