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How to respond to employee grievances – The First Steps

Here at ViewHR, as well as responding to Covid-related queries such as furlough leave questions, the team are also continuing to support employers with other non-Covid HR matters, such as responding to employee grievances.

If you are a manager or business owner, and you first receive a grievance from an employee, your instinct may be to act immediately. After all, who likes to know that they have an employee who is unhappy? Or maybe you disagree with the employee, and want to tell them why?

Certainly, responding to grievances in a timely manner is important.  However, it is also important to ensure that matters are handled correctly and fairly, as failing to do so may reduce the chances of the grievance being resolved satisfactorily (and you meeting your obligations as an employer).  As such, the ViewHR team have put together a list of initial considerations for managers who receive a grievance from an employee here:

Is this actually a grievance?

Sometimes it can be very easy to identify a grievance, as the employee will say “I wish to raise a formal grievance” in a letter. However, sometimes it can be harder to tell! Whilst employees are asked to set out their concerns in writing when raising a formal grievance, that doesn’t mean that every concern in writing from an employee is automatically a formal grievance.  Sometimes people just want to get something off their chest, but do not want you to take any action (although in some cases you may be required to act anyway, e.g. if they report colleagues not following health and safety rules).

ACAS encourages employers to explore if things can be resolved informally if suitable. As such, in many cases, it may be best to ask the employee how they would like their concerns resolved, and if they wish for the matter to be treated as a formal grievance. Employers should not pressure employees into not raising a formal grievance if they wish to do so, however.

(Please note that if an employee agrees to try and resolve concerns informally, but does not feel that they are resolved at a later stage, they do keep the right to bring a formal grievance.)

What grievance process do I have to follow?

Your organisation may have an internal grievance procedure, which it is likely you will have to follow.  However, any grievance procedure should be aligned with the ACAS Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance, which is available here.

Sometimes, if your organisation has an old grievance procedure, it may not have been updated to reflect the current ACAS Code, and so in this situation you should make sure you meet the ACAS requirements.  If there is no internal grievance procedure, you should follow the ACAS Code by itself.  This sets out the steps that employers should follow in handling a grievance.

Who is the best person to investigate and hear the grievance?

As an employer who cares about your team, you may want to try and fix everything yourself. However, in some circumstances, this may not be appropriate. If the grievance is against you, then it is unlikely that the employee will raise the grievance to you directly, but if this does happen, you should pass it to another manager (who is at least as senior as you).  If there is nobody available, then an external HR Consultant may be suitable to ensure impartiality.

This would also apply if you were too close to the grievance to be seen as independent, for example, if you run the business with a close family member, and the grievance raised was about them.

The ACAS Code also provides employees with the right to appeal a grievance outcome (once) if they are not satisfied with it. As such, if you are the MD and a grievance is received, it may be appropriate to allocate another director or suitable manager to investigate and hear the grievance in the first instance, leaving you available to hear any appeal. In this situation, you must take care to remain independent of the investigation process, so that you can deal with any appeal independently.

Do I need to take any other measures to conduct the investigation?

Sometimes the nature of an employee grievance can cause you to worry about the impact another employee is having in the workplace – for example, if somebody complains that they have been subjected to violence by a colleague, or that a colleague is stealing money.  There can also be a risk that an employee may interfere with an investigation process, by tampering with evidence or seeking to intimidate witnesses.

In situations like this, it may be necessary to suspend the employee alleged of wrongdoing, to allow an investigation to take place. Our recent blog on this topic provides a few pointers on when this may be appropriate.

We hope none of the employers we work with do receive a grievance, but if you do, we are here to help – please contact us for a discussion. Also, don’t forget that a grievance can be like a customer complaint, in that in some cases it is an opportunity to build an even stronger relationship.