Most employers will have to deal with grievances from employees from time to time.
Whilst it may be a time consuming process, taking a grievance seriously and handling it correctly will help to foster good employee relations as well as reduce the risk of tribunal claims.
What does a good grievance process look like?
As a minimum, employers should follow the principles set out in the Acas Code of Practice for Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. Putting in place a grievance policy which follows the principles of the Code will put you in a good position to handle complaints from employees. A policy will ensure that employees know how to raise a grievance and what to expect once they do.
The Code sets out the key steps to handling workplace grievances as:
- The employee must let the employer know the nature of the grievance, and this should be done in writing.
- The employer needs to arrange a meeting with the employee to discuss the grievance, this needs to be in a reasonable amount of time.
- The employee has the right to be accompanied to the grievance meeting by a colleague or trade union representative.
- Following the meeting, the employer must decide on what action to take and communicate its decision to the employee in writing.
- The employer must give the employee an opportunity to appeal against the decision. The appeal should be heard ideally by a manager not previously involved.
These are the basics of handling grievances. In practice, employers should carry out an investigation, look at relevant documents and speak to witnesses as appropriate to ensure you’re paying more than just lip service to the procedure.
What are the consequences if we don’t follow a grievance process?
It is not the case that if an employer fails to follow a grievance procedure, the employee will have an automatic claim. However, where an employee has at least 2 years’ service they are entitled to bring an unfair dismissal claim.
If an employer doesn’t deal with a grievance properly and an employee has another claim (for example, unfair dismissal), failing to follow the Acas Code can result in up to a 25% uplift in any compensation the employee is awarded.
There can be other implications of failing to deal with a grievance properly, for example, if the complaint is connected to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act the employee could bring a discrimination claim
Should we follow a process for employees with less than 2 years’ service?
Some employers may be tempted not to apply its grievance procedures to employees who don’t have unfair dismissal rights, as you may feel the risk it lower. However, employees with less than 2 years’ service can still bring discrimination or whistleblowing claims.
Grievances can also uncover serious issues in the workplace, for example bullying or harassment, enabling you to deal with them head on. Not only is it worth following a process to minimise the risk of claims, but it will help you to maintain a happy and healthy working environment.
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