Eight steps to overcome your fear of employee grievances

Here, Gillian Smith, HR policy consultant at Moorepay, explains how you can deal with employee grievances.

Disgruntled, frustrated and even furious are feelings most employees will experience at some point in their careers.

Yet, when they bring such feeling to the attention of their superiors, many managers panic for fear of falling foul of employment law or other repercussions.

Often, all the employee wants is to be listened to or given an opportunity to speak. If managers are prepared and deal with the issues in the correct way they can be solved quickly and effectively, meaning employees are unlikely to raise appeals or bring legal claims as they will have insufficient grounds to do so.

For any managers concerned about handling employee grievances, we’ve put together these eight top tips to overcome fear and worry.

1. Encourage employees to try to resolve grievances informally before taking formal action

The first stage in any grievance process is to raise the matter informally with the person concerned. Employees can discuss concerns and attempt to resolve them in less formal surroundings; often, letting someone know that you are unhappy with their actions is enough to prevent the behaviour continuing.

2. Don’t delay

The key to dealing with grievances is to make sure that they are dealt with as quickly as possible. Too often little issues escalate into big issues that cost time and money to sort out. Avoiding dealing with the grievance may make the problem worse and impact negatively upon the rest of your workforce.

3. Treat people fairly and with respect

You may have your own opinions on the person raising the grievance or on the person who the grievance is against. It is essential you keep these to yourself and allow the employee the opportunity to express their point of view. Take time to listen and establish facts.

4. Ensure the grievance can be aired privately

Arrange a private room for informal or formal grievances to be aired. It is important that the employee can speak freely without being overheard by other colleagues.

5. Stop the blame game

Create a working environment based on accountability and take active steps to ensure a blame culture does not arise. Mistakes do and will happen and problems will arise. Encourage employees to seek solutions rather than leap straight into who is to blame. Playing the ‘blame game’ tends to escalate rather than diminish any conflict.

6. Understand the desired outcome from the grievance

Ask the employee raising a grievance the question ‘what outcome do you want from this grievance?’. This tends to focus their mind on the solution they are looking for, rather than just the problem. Sometimes they are looking for something as simple as an apology.

7. Carrying out an investigation before the formal hearing

Depending on the nature of the complaint, you may need to carry out investigations prior to the hearing to get a full understanding of the issue raised. Other employees could also be experiencing the same issue but have been unconfident in reporting it. Indeed, it may uncover further issues that management are unaware of.

Any evidence obtained should be provided to the employee in advance of the hearing to allow them time to consider their response.

8. Provide a written outcome

After reaching a decision, the employer should write to the employee advising them of the outcome and resolutions proposed (preferably within seven working days).

What if the employee is not satisfied with the outcome?

If, after following the above steps, the employee is unsatisfied with the outcome of the formal hearing, they may appeal in writing.

This should be addressed and managed by a more senior member of staff to the person who heard the initial hearing. The appeal hearing is not intended to be a full re-hearing of the original grievance and should centre on the areas of concern the employee has raised in their appeal letter.

The outcome of the appeal hearing will be final (unless you have a policy which incorporates a second stage appeal). The final decision must be communicated to the employee in writing. The matter will then be closed irrespective of whether the employee accepts the outcome.

What happens if a grievance is raised during the disciplinary process?

If an employee raises a grievance and they are currently facing disciplinary action, the grievance would not normally be heard until after the disciplinary proceedings, unless it is applicable to the course of the proceedings and has an impact on them.

If the employee raises a grievance relating to the disciplinary action taken, they should address this through the disciplinary appeals procedure.

What are the implications of failing to follow a fair procedure?

Failure to follow a fair procedure and/or the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures may result in an Employment Tribunal upholding the employee’s complaint.
In addition, a tribunal can increase any award made to an employee by up to 25 per cent where the employer has unreasonably failed to follow any provision of the ACAS Code of Practice.

Gillian Smith is HR policy consultant at Moorepay

Further reading on employee grievances

Opportunity: Is your business set up and actively trading? If so, you are eligible for the Small Business Grants initiative from SmallBusiness.co.uk. We’re giving away £5,000 every month in a free-to-enter competition. Apply now by clicking here. Good luck!

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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