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Common Mistakes When Responding To A Grievance

Grievances are concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise in relation to their employment. Where possible, managers should be alert to issues within their teams and aim to tackle them within their regular one-to-one sessions. There is an overarching need for employers and managers to resolve grievances quickly and informally; this will help with the overall culture of the organisation and stop any negative undercurrents that may hamper business aims.

There are occasions, however, when a grievance is raised formally and will need to follow process. What are the common mistakes businesses make when responding to a grievance?

Not acknowledging the grievance and delaying the process

The easiest course of action may be to stick your head in the sand; unfortunately, that won’t solve the complaint; it may make it worse. Managers should acknowledge grievances quickly and start communicating with the individual; a large proportion of the time, staff members at this stage don’t feel listened to, so by not communicating, you are adding fuel to the fire.

When you receive a grievance, your first step should be to confirm receipt of their complaint and determine if they want it to be handled formally or informally. Once you are clear of the direction of movement, don’t delay; invite them to a grievance hearing (within five working days, ideally).

Not listening to the individual

Often it can be hard to hear a complaint. Employers might simply dismiss the grievance by jumping to their own conclusions without properly listening or investigating the matter beyond face value and providing their own solution (although we would not recommend this). How would the employee feel? While potentially the matter might be resolved, the employee will most likely still feel aggrieved and demotivated.

Hold a grievance hearing with the ultimate purpose of actively listening to the individual. Ask questions that will help your understanding of the matter, allow the employee to be accompanied to better enable them to make their case and consider the broader picture.

At the hearing, the two parties should discuss how the grievance could be resolved. Ask for ideas and suggestions and, again, genuinely listen. While it may not be possible to resolve their complaint in the suggested manner, it may be possible to make compromises in line with requests.

Not following procedure

The Employment Tribunal (EAT), in the case of Blackburn v Aldi Stores Ltd, set a precedent that businesses need to follow their internal grievance procedures. In this case, the individual’s grievance was heard by a regional managing director in line with procedure; the individual appealed and was unsuccessful. The appeal was heard by the same managing director rather than a more senior manager. This was in breach of the employer’s own grievance procedure and the ACAS Code of Practice. The case set implications for all employers:

  • The hearing of grievances must always comply with both the employer’s own procedure and the minimum standards set out in the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.
  • Failure to follow grievance procedures may be a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.
  • Failure to follow such procedures can amount to a contractual breach and therefore it could form the basis for a constructive unfair dismissal claim.
  • Failure to comply with the Acas Code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures may lead to increased compensatory awards of up to 25 per cent more in a later claim.

Be sure to keep your grievance procedure under review and ensure what is written is actionable by your business and managers.

Not supporting the individual

Raising a formal grievance is significant for employees and can negatively affect their health and well-being. If staff aren’t treated in a respectful and dignified manner, employers run the risk of losing key team members. Reports suggest that 61% of firms were looking for staff in the second quarter of 2022, similar to 60% in the first quarter. But 76% were reporting difficulties. With recruitment proving challenging, staff retention should be a priority for all employers.  

When undertaking a formal grievance procedure, employers should consider whether they can:

  • Provide access to an employee assistance programme;
  • Make reasonable adjustments for the employee (home working, flexible working); and
  • temporarily review workloads to ensure the employee’s well-being.

Not only will the individual be grateful for the support, but the business’s reputation, internally and externally, will be bolstered.

If you need help writing or amending your grievance procedure or training managers to undertake this process, please get in contact with a member of the View HR team.  We are also available to provide support in situations where an employee grievance has been received.