As staff are being asked to return to the office, you may find some aren’t willing to do so, or that you’re having to deal with a higher level of (other) staff issues/complaints.
If so a staff handbook is invaluable. In fact, by law, all employers must have a grievance procedure that staff can use if they have a problem or want to make a complaint. If you don’t, or the process doesn’t resolve an issue, you may find that things escalate and, worst case, you end up in an employment tribunal.
ACAS has some very useful guidance on this, see here.
And here are our tips for avoiding common pitfalls.
Follow your process:
It may sound obvious, but we regularly find that employers just aren’t following their own policy. So make sure you stick to the process set out in the policy and follow any timetable for dealing with and responding to issues.
Don’t bury your head in the sand:
It’s important that any grievance is dealt with in a timely way – even where there is no express time limit set out in the policy. Letting matters drift leaves the problem unresolved and risks legal action later on.
Communication is key:
Make sure you keep the employee informed of what is going on and where you are in the process. This can really help reduce stress and anxiety for those involved (as well as the risk of a legal claim). For example, if there is going to be a delay dealing with things because of holidays, say so.
Don’t overlook an informal complaint:
Even if the employee is not using the formal grievance procedure but raises an issue informally, perhaps during a conversation, don’t ignore it. Nipping problems in the bud can head off a formal grievance that may suck up more internal resource. And make sure you keep a record of it and how it was dealt with.
Keep an open mind:
It’s important to be fair and consistent in how you deal with grievances. Avoid pre-judging a matter and investigate all grievances fully, share relevant information with the employee and let them have their say at a formal meeting before you make any decision.
Confirm your decision in writing:
Make sure the decision you have reached is justified by evidence from the investigation. Consider any representations made at meetings and, if you are rejecting them, explain why.
Let the employee bring a companion to meetings:
Employees have a legal right to have a work colleague or trade union representative accompany them to formal meetings held under a grievance procedure. Employment tribunals take a very dim view of employers who try to frustrate this right, so err on the side of caution.
Don’t forget to offer an appeal from any decision:
When you tell the employee the outcome of their grievance, make sure you also tell them they have a right of appeal. Ideally, any appeal should be dealt with by people who have not been involved with the initial grievance. In smaller companies this may not be possible. In such cases consider asking a third party to hear the appeal.
Consider involving a third party to run the process for you:
If you don’t have a dedicated HR resource or previous experience in handling grievances consider appointing someone who knows what they’re doing to help run the process for you.
Also bear in mind that if an employee makes a claim of unfair dismissal or discrimination, the way you’ve dealt with any grievances will have a bearing on the tribunal’s decision and also on the amount of compensation (if any) that’s awarded to the employee.
Our HR Legal Counsel service provides strategic and commercial legal support and advice to support your business. If you want to discuss any of the above or have any questions about your HR policies and processes please get in touch.