The increase in employment tribunal claims could mark the beginning of a new era for employee relations. With this, comes an increased pressure on organisations and HR teams to better manage grievance procedures from the word go.
Here’s a 5-point plan for when a grievance, or any level of complaint is raised by an employee:
1. Simply, take action
An employer has an obligation to consider the complaint and conduct an investigation into the organisations practices and procedures if there are reasonable grounds for concern. This obligation applies regardless of whether the complaint is formal, informal or a just a general allegation of wrongdoing.
It may be that the action to be taken is informal, i.e. having a quiet word with someone who is the subject of the complaint or, who has the ability to resolve things informally. Mediation may also be an option if both parties are open to this.
In taking action, employers have the opportunity to demonstrate receptivity to their employees concerns and create a culture of genuine improvement.
2. Conduct an impartial and open-minded investigation
So, in the spirit of taking action – the investigation process kicks in. Our golden rule for a HR investigation? Go where the evidence takes you. Don’t rely on a checklist. Remember that witness interviews are just conversations, so investigators must use their natural instincts to uncover the story.
Of course, employers or external investigators must also be impartial, open-minded and thorough. However, employers should be wary when commissioning investigations that can soon take on a momentum of their own. Be fair, maintain respect for the investigation and ensure its not viewed as a defensive strategy.
3. Demonstrate a tangible commitment to respect
The key to a successful investigation isn’t just the skill and methodology of the investigator, but a clear organisational commitment to respecting any complaints and uncomfortable truths that may emerge.
It’s crucial that employers foster (or start to build) a culture whereby they are receptive, respectful and approachable when grievances are raised – no matter how ‘general’ or difficult they might be. Employees need to be assured they will not be disadvantaged for telling the truth.
In the absence of this commitment and respect, employees will, at the very least, be hesitant to raise a grievance, and therefore effective organisational interventions cannot take place. At worst, they may feel the need to raise formal grievances repeatedly to make their point. This is not only time consuming for all, but risks damaging relationships and business culture.
4. Ensure timely and clear communication of outcomes
Dealing with, and responding to, the complaint without unnecessary delay sends out the message that the grievance is taken seriously, whilst showing respect for the person who has raised the complaint. If the investigation is going to take some time, let the employee know why there is a delay and how long it may take to conclude the matter.
We’d always recommend formally confirming the outcome and the reasons behind the decision in writing.
5. Keep appeals impartial
If an employee is not happy about the outcome of the grievance investigation then they have the right of appeal. We always stress how important it is to ensure that the manager hearing the appeal was not involved in the investigation, the grievance hearing, or in deciding the outcome. A lack of impartiality at this stage could undo all sense of fairness and impartiality that has gone before.
The process of managing a grievance, or managing a grievance appeal process fairly, effectively and with respect is now more important than ever. Organisations can work to proactively manage grievance situations to avoid disputes and the potential to end up in the tribunal.
Remember that the key components of any grievance process are responsiveness, transparency, impartiality and, above all, a deeply embedded commitment to uncovering truths and resolving matters – however difficult they may be.