How to deal with grievances in the workplace

Grievances, complaints, disputes – whatever the label, differences are bound to arise sometimes in the workplace between employer and employee. If not dealt with properly, they can prove time-consuming and costly for employers. It’s vital for businesses to know how to deal effectively with grievances in the workplace and to be aware of the legal rights and obligations on each party.

Every supervisor or manager has experienced it – an unhappy employee at their door and usually when you have a million other pressing things to do. Conflict can occur for a myriad of reasons: over conditions at work, pay, promotion, absences or perceived victimisation or harassment.

Grievances can be bad for business, especially when disgruntled employees air their complaints to clients, customers or, these days, even on social media. Unhappy employees will not be performing at their best and may adversely affect company morale too. However, as an employer, it’s important to be fair and professional. Not only is this good practice but the law requires it.

Here are some helpful reminders about dealing with grievances:

  • Be clear
    You should have in place a clear and effective set of Human Resources policies and procedures. Make sure your employees know, for example, how to request time off or if required to clock in and out, how to do that. You should have well-drafted grievance procedures and make sure your managers know them. Being clear about these things will help protect the company and reduce disputes and claims.
  • Be prompt and fair
    Once a grievance has been raised, don’t let it fester. Show the employee that you take it seriously and reply to them promptly about the next steps. Managers should follow the company’s grievance procedure closely – failure to do that could cause further grievance.
  • Resolve informally
    As a first step employees should be encouraged to raise any problems informally and with their immediate line manager – the good news is that most complaints are resolved at this stage.
  • When to formalise the complaint
    If the dispute cannot be resolved informally, then you should ask the employee to put their complaint in writing. You will need to involve another manager or HR staff to investigate the complaint to try to establish the facts. Records should be kept of meetings. Check the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures to make sure you are following it.
  • Involve a third party
    If matters escalate, you may find it helpful to bring in a third party, an independent outsider, to find a resolution. Government advice is available about these third party resolutions. There are three main types of third party involvement:

    • Mediation – can be an effective, voluntary method for resolving disputes in the workplace. ACAS commissioned a telephone survey of managers in 500 SMEs to assess their experience of mediation. ACAS subsequently reported that “of those that had used mediation, almost half said that the last mediation had resolved the issues completely (49%), and more than four in five (82%) said it had resolved the issues either completely or partly.”
    • Conciliation – is also voluntary and similar to mediation but applies when an Employment Tribunal may have been involved
    • Arbitration – when both employer and employee agree to be legally bound by an arbitrator’s decision.
  • Address underlying problems
    It is a good idea to head off future grievances by addressing any underlying problems within the company which may cause similar problems to arise. Do your management procedures need review? Are all staff inducted clearly? Are your systems up-to-date?

In the end, if things get legal, it can prove expensive and draining. Deal swiftly and professionally with grievances to avoid Employment Tribunals and, ultimately, boost the overall success of your business.

Where grievances arise from lateness or absence issues, having access to accurate data can support the process. Cloud-based time and attendance system, uAttend collects and reports on real time clocking in data.