D-BRIEF – Employment & Pensions Blog: Dealing with employee grievances

In Autumn 2022 XpertHR carried out a survey of 158 UK organisations and their employees. The results showed that almost a third of organisations surveyed had seen a rise in employee grievances over the past two years, with the top three reasons being bullying or harassment at 67 per cent, relationships with managers at 54 per cent and relationships with colleagues at 49 per cent.

Given the rise in employee grievances and the resultant strain that this may put on HR resources and a limited pool of managers trained to deal with these, grievance procedures can often go on longer than they should. This puts employers at risk of not complying with the ACAS code and the potential for employees to resign in response to their concerns not being addressed. This article seeks to remind employers of the key principles of dealing with grievances efficiently and in accordance with the code to avoid such occurrences.

Resolving grievances informally

Where possible, grievances should be handled informally. Managers should be skilled and empowered to deal with informal issues at work as part of their management of employees and 1:1s. The XpertHR survey reported that 4 in 10 of the employees surveyed believed that managers were ineffective at resolving issues informally which led to grievances being escalated to either a formal grievance or in some cases disciplinary matters. It is important to provide regular training to managers on how to recognise and deal with grievance situations promptly and effectively, whilst also remaining compassionate of the circumstances.

Formal grievances

Where a formal grievance has been raised, it is important to define the grievance at an early stage. Grievance letters can be lengthy and make investigations into the issues difficult. We recommend meeting employees at an early stage and asking them to clearly set out and agree the points of grievance that are to be investigated. Equally, if the grievance is for bullying and harassment and has a very long list of alleged incidents, you should enquire with the employee whether they are agreeable to an investigation into a more concise list of incidents as evidence of the alleged bullying. Taking this step will greatly assist the investigation which will be more focussed and concise, meaning it can be concluded quicker and hopefully also avoid any suggestions from the employee that points of their grievance have not been investigated.

Where grievances are raised about bullying and harassment and or working relationships, employers will need to consider how they deal with the alleged victim and perpetrator whilst the investigation is ongoing.  In particular whether they can continue working together or whether certain adjustments need to be put in place to ensure they do not come into contact, e.g. home working, working from different offices etc.  Both employees should also be advised of any employee assistance or counselling service available to them throughout the process.

Don’t delay

It can be easy for grievance investigations to drift where employees are off sick, on holiday or simply have busy work diaries. The Acas code on grievances states that grievance outcomes should be communicated in writing without unreasonable delay so efforts should be made to investigate and make a decision on grievances as soon as possible. Where there is a delay because of diary commitments or absence then employees should be kept updated.  The risk of not dealing with a grievance in a timely manner could be that an employee alleges this to be a repudiatory breach of contract, resigning in response and issuing a claim for constructive unfair dismissal.

Our team are experienced in advising on both simple and complex grievances and have experience of undertaking grievance investigations as an independent third party. For further information please contact a member of our Employment Team.

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