HR Guide: Grievance Procedures

Compensation
posted by Helen Bull

A new Acas report has estimated that workplace conflict costs UK employers £28.5 billion every year, an average of just over £1,000 for every employee. With the report also estimating that nearly half a million employees resign from their jobs each year as a result of conflict, it is crucial that employers know what to do when a grievance is raised in order to minimise the risk of potential claims and upset to staff.

This guide seeks to provide some basic steps for employers to consider when faced with a grievance situation. 

ACAS Code

Read and get to grips with the ACAS Code on disciplinary and grievance procedures. Going back to basics is a good place to start and will remind you of some of the key elements of a fair and reasonable grievance process.

Policies and Procedures

Ideally policies and procedures (not just concerning grievances but also regarding other matters such as bullying and discrimination) should be up to scratch and reflect the requirements of the ACAS Code mentioned above. Investing the time to check the correct procedures are in place before any problems occur will save an employer a lot of hassle further down the line.

Employers should review their policies and procedures before taking action to remind themselves of the steps to follow and management should be adequately trained.

Can it be resolved informally?

It may be that due to the nature of the grievance, the issue can be resolved informally. This is in fact encouraged by the ACAS Code and often leads to a positive and swift outcome. Staff should be encouraged to raise any issues at an early stage before matters unnecessarily escalate.

If an issue is raised, it should be dealt with promptly and sensitively. Usually a meeting with the employee to listen to their concerns and discuss possible solutions is a good place to start. Further investigation into the matter may be needed before agreeing a plan of action. Once a suitable solution has been agreed, employers should follow this up in writing. 

Formal Grievance

If a grievance cannot be resolved informally or the employee has decided to initiate the formal grievance procedure, the employee should put their grievance in writing detailing:

  • The nature of the complaint;
  • Any relevant facts;
  • Dates of particular incident(s); and
  • Names of individuals involved.

Once a formal grievance has been raised, employers should follow the below steps.

Establish the Facts

A prompt investigation should take place by an impartial and appropriate person. Ideally the person investigating the grievance should be trained on how to deal with grievances. In many cases, the employee’s line manager or HR can investigate the matter. If the matter is particularly serious or complex, a more senior manager may be best placed to investigate.

Making a decision on a grievance without first completing a reasonable investigation could potentially make that decision unfair, and leave an employer vulnerable to legal action.

The investigator should keep a record of all investigation meetings. Once the investigator has fully investigated the matter they should produce an investigation report that explains the findings.

Grievance Meeting

Employers should arrange a formal meeting to be held without unreasonable delay, ideally within five working days.

It is important that when writing to an employee inviting them to a grievance meeting, that they are informed of their right to be accompanied.

It goes without saying that the person chairing the meeting should be impartial and should not be involved in the issues that led to the employee’s grievance.

During the meeting, employees must be given the opportunity to explain their grievance and how they think it should be resolved. If further consideration of the evidence or further investigation is required, the meeting should be adjourned.

The meeting should be held in a private room away from any interruption. The manager should aim to keep the meeting amicable and should ensure a non-biased and objective approach throughout. When conducting the meeting, the manager should:

  • Introduce those present;
  • Invite the employee to restate his or her grievance and how he or she would like it to be resolved;
  • Allow the employee to submit any supporting evidence and discuss any evidence which has been gathered as part of the employer’s investigation;
  • Permit the employee's companion to ask questions, put the employee's case forward, respond to any views expressed and confer with the employee, but not to answer questions on the employee's behalf;
  • Sum up the main points and explain what will happen next; and
  • Advise the employee of when he or she can expect a response, subject to any further investigation that may be necessary.

If the employee is off sick, consideration should be given to alternative methods including holding a meeting at the employee’s home or a mutually convenient venue or allowing the process to be conducted in writing. If the employee refuses to agree, the employer should consider referring the employee to occupational health to determine whether the employee is fit to engage in the grievance process.

Employers should not make a decision in the meeting, but should adjourn the meeting to allow for a thorough consideration of all the information.

Decide on appropriate action

After the grievance meeting, the employer should decide on what action, if any, to take. The employer should inform the employee of their decision in writing without unreasonable delay.

If following the meeting, further investigation is required which would prolong the timescale in which a decision could be made, the employer should write to the employee and keep them updated. How often will depend on the nature of the grievance and whether the employee is at work.

The reasoning for the decision should be set out in the letter. Options for the employer are:

  • Upholding the grievance;
  • Upholding parts of the grievance and rejecting others;
  • Rejecting the grievance outright.

Where the employer upholds the grievance or part of the employee’s grievance, the employer should also identify ways in which the matter can be resolved such as mediation or changes in the workplace such as being assigned a new line manager.

Employees should be notified of their right to appeal and how an appeal can be raised.

Appeal

If an employee wishes to raise an appeal they should inform their employer promptly, setting out their grounds for appeal. An employer should hear the appeal without unreasonable delay.

The appeal should be dealt with impartially by a manager who has not been previously involved with the grievance and ideally by someone more senior.  It should also be noted that employees have the same right to be accompanied at an appeal as at a grievance meeting.

The person conducting the appeal should have access to the evidence compiled during the investigation and copies of the notes from the grievance meeting. However, they should not confer with the initial decision-maker prior to the appeal meeting as this may lead to a biased view being taken before the employee has presented his or her arguments on appeal.

Once the appeal has been heard, the employer should inform the employee of their decision in writing as soon as possible.

Getting this process right is important as a failure to follow a fair and impartial grievance procedure could lead to a constructive unfair dismissal claim. In addition, if the employee subsequently brings a successful claim, the tribunal could increase compensation by up to 25% for failure to comply with the ACAS code.

The above is just a brief outline of some of the steps that an employer should take when commencing grievance proceedings but it is always advisable to seek legal advice.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any other aspect of employment law at 029 2034 5511 or employment@berrysmith.com