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The Return to the Workplace – How to Handle Disputes

In January, the government ended its recommendation for people to work from home and this has resulted in an increase in the number of employees returning to the office.  For some, this has been a welcome change but, for others, this has resulted in several concerns.  In fact, according to a CIPD survey, 44% of employees felt anxious about returning to their workplaces because of Covid. 

Whether employees are keen to return to the workplace or not, going back to working in an office is likely to result in an increase in workplace disputes for several reasons.  Those who are anxious about returning to the office because of concerns related to Covid may struggle if others don’t seem to follow Covid guidelines.  Employees may not enjoy working in close proximity with others as much as they had hoped.  Unsurprisingly, according to a Managing Workplace Conflict report, the most common cause of conflict is differences in personality styles or working and adjusting back to the various working preferences may result in disputes. 

Another reality is that many of us have got used to having our working environment adjusted to suit us – things like the temperature of the room, choosing if we want to hear music, and if so what music and when – have become standard for many.  We also haven’t had to consider whether the smell of yesterday’s leftover fish pie is a lunchtime problem, or to worry about who took things out of the fridge that weren’t for sharing.  With so many potential areas for conflict, what should employers do if they notice upsets in the workplace.

1.Don’t let it fester

We’ve all heard the expression ‘nip it in the bud’ and this is vital when issues arise.  If you notice a problem or it’s brought to your attention, try to find a resolution quickly.  Engage the workforce in meaningful discussions around what’s acceptable in the office, confirm what the Covid safety measures are, and try to find solutions to problems through open discussions.  If issues don’t get dealt with, they are more likely to become difficult to solve and individuals may choose to raise a grievance. 

2.Consider mediation

If an informal approach hasn’t worked, consider mediation.  This may involve utilising an external third party to help individuals try to find an acceptable way forward that everyone can agree to.  For more information on mediation, you can read our previous blog here

3.Allow employees to raise a grievance

If an employee does not feel that their concern has been dealt with or it’s at a level of seriousness where it needs to be formally addressed, ensure they are aware of their right to raise a grievance.  If an employee choses to do this, it’s important that you follow the ACAS guidelines on grievances and you can find more information on that subject here

4.Investigate thoroughly

Employers have a duty to investigate a grievance thoroughly and that requires thought and planning.  You will need to meet with the employee to discuss the matter, interview any relevant witnesses and write an investigation report.  Read more information here on how to conduct an investigation

5.Allow employees to appeal

If an employee is unhappy with the outcome of their grievance, they have the option to appeal.  The appeal should be heard by a different person and needs to follow ACAS guidelines.  View HR’s previous blog on how to handle an appeal can be found here

6.See if there are lessons to be learnt

Regardless of whether an issue is resolved informally, at mediation, or after a grievance has been raised, there’s likely to be points to reflect on.  Use this reflection to think about whether disputes could be resolved earlier if changes are made.  These may take the form of management training, clearer guidelines/policies for employees, mediation training, more consistent team meetings, or other improvements.   

If you would benefit from help in investigating grievances, updating policies or bringing in an external mediator, please get in touch with View HR for an initial discussion.