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The essential six-step guide to deal with a grievance

Published 18 October 2022

Making or dealing with any work-related complaint can trigger a range of emotions, so knowing the right steps to take in such a situation is vital.

If an employee has a concern, complaint or problem at work, they can raise a formal grievance [1. cited 18.10.22] 

How you as an employer then deal with such a complaint, can make or completely destroy any working relationship.

Get it wrong…and matters that potentially could have been resolved amicably, can spiral out of control.

A grievance can be about anything including workload, relationships with colleagues or terms and conditions.

In extremely serious cases it can be about any form of discrimination, which is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 [2. cited 18.10.22]

The risks associated with mishandling a grievance about discrimination are huge. There is currently no cap on the amount of compensation an employee can receive if such a claim is successful.

You should have a grievance policy that reflects the ACAS Code of Practice [3.cited 18.10.22]. The Code sets the minimum standard of fairness workplaces should follow in dealing with a grievance.

Here are six essential steps to make sure you manage the grievance process fairly and effectively:

Step 1 – Informal approach

It is important to listen to and understand how an employee wants a grievance to be resolved. Sometimes an apology or change to the way certain things are being done can suffice.

Talking informally about an issue and learning what is required to fix it, can allow you to address it early, and prevent it from escalating.

You should always explore with an employee the possibility of dealing with a grievance informally, where it is practicable.

Step 2 – A formal meeting with the employee

If an informal approach does not work, arrange a formal grievance hearing without delay.

The employee has a statutory right to be accompanied at a grievance hearing by a trade union representative or work colleague [4.cited 18.10.22]  

Allow the employee and their companion to fully explain the grievance and provide any evidence to support it.

To ensure you fully understand all of the issues you need to investigate, listen carefully and clarify anything that is not clear

Step 3 – Grievance investigation

The investigation can make or break the process. It should be thorough and robust.

Make an investigation plan. Be clear about what needs to be investigated, what witnesses need to be spoken to and what evidence needs to be gathered e.g. CCTV.

Be fair and objective, follow your policies and guidelines, gather as much information as is reasonable and get balanced evidence from all sides.

Speak to witnesses and take witness statements. Ask the witnesses to check, sign and date any statements. Re-interview witnesses if any clarification is needed.

When the investigation is finished, draft a report and share it with the employee.

Step 4 - Grievance outcome

Inform the employee of the investigation findings and provide them with a grievance outcome.

If the decision is taken to reject the grievance, or parts of it, you should inform the employee of their right to appeal.

Step 5 – Grievance appeal

An appeal should be in writing, and it should detail the grounds for appeal. Arrange a grievance appeal hearing without delay [5. cited 18.10.22].

The appeal hearing should be chaired by someone who has not previously been involved in the process.

Similar to the original grievance hearing, the employee can be accompanied and should be invited to fully explain their appeal and provide evidence to support it.

Step 6 – Grievance appeal outcome

After you have conducted a grievance appeal investigation, provide the employee with an outcome.

The outcome should be thorough and fair. It is an opportunity for you to address and correct any failings or flaws in the original process.

This is important, as the grievance appeal is the final stage of the process and if the employee remains aggrieved afterwards, they could take legal action.

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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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