Updated: May 7
Grievances - the most dreaded of all the HR procedures!
Put simply, the grievance procedure is the mechanism by which employees can raise concerns or complaints to management. They come in all shapes and sizes, from informal grumbles to formal letters of complaint. Grievances usually relate to the way in which another employee or manager has behaved or has been perceived to behave towards the employee raising the grievance.
Why grievances are good for your business
I know that none of us really like to hear complaints about our business, our team or our own individual management style. But unfortunately, it's part of the package when you employ people. Not everyone is going to be happy with everything all of the time.
But I actually think that grievances are a good thing for your business. As unpleasant as they may be, grievances are direct forms of feedback from your staff about a problem, which can usually be fixed. They can highlight underlying cultural issues which you may not have been aware of. They can highlight the need for more training. They can highlight areas for improvement that you might otherwise have thought were fine.
For example, if you receive 3 grievances about the behaviour of the same person, you can be pretty confident that that person's behaviour is not appropriate or in line with your organisational culture. If you receive a grievance about the way a manager has handled a situation with an employee, that tells you the manager probably needs a bit more training.
I want you to change your mindset around grievances. Don't see them as a pain in the arse, horrible and uncomfortable process. Instead, think of grievances as an opportunity to learn and improve.
What to do when you receive a grievance
You might not always know when you receive an informal grievance. Employees don't say, "I am raising an informal grievance". But usually, an employee will come to you to tell you they have a problem with another member of staff.
Let's say that Kevin was rude to Jane last week and Jane doesn't want to work with Kevin anymore because she thinks he's arrogant.
This is a great example of an informal grievance. It's a low level issue which can be easily resolved and doesn't point to any significant cultural or behavioural issues, simply a personality clash. Equally, the employee has given you the resolution they are seeking. Your options here are to:
move Jane and Kevin to opposite shifts
offer mediation to help them understand one another better
encourage both employees to be more professional and perhaps offer some training.
So for this example, we decide to move Jane and Kevin to opposite shifts. It works for us and it solves a problem for the employees.
But after a while, Jane comes to you again stating that Dave is bullying her.
Now, some people may take the view that Jane loves the drama and is being over sensitive to the "banter". She's already raised one grievance, is she just doing it for the attention?
The answer is, it doesn't matter.
As a manager and a business leader, it is your responsibility to take grievances on face value and address them appropriately using the correct procedures, whether you think Jane's a drama queen or not.
So, Jane tells you Dave is bullying her. This is not something that can be resolved by moving Jane and Dave onto different shifts. This is a serious concern and needs to be addressed accordingly. This is where the formal procedure comes into play.
You advise Jane to put her concerns in writing and give you some specific examples of Dave's bullying behaviour.
When you receive Jane's grievance in writing, you then need to arrange to meet with her for a formal grievance hearing. This is where Jane will give you the details and the context around what is in her letter.
After the grievance hearing, you then need to investigate the allegations Jane is making against Dave. If the allegations are serious enough and your contract of employment allows it, you might need to suspend Dave from work during the investigation. The investigation is to discover any evidence which may or may not support Jane's allegations.
When the investigation is completed, you reconvene the grievance hearing with Jane to deliver your findings in the investigation. Whilst you can't give the specifics, you can tell Jane whether the evidence supported her claims or not.
If the evidence confirms that Dave has been bullying various people in the team, you can then begin a disciplinary process for Dave.
The tricky thing about grievances is that they are so subjective. One person's bullying is another person's banter and it is up to you to decide whether that behaviour could be considered by a reasonable person to be inappropriate.
For example, employees playing practical jokes on one another could be perceived as a bit of fun, or full blown bullying.
Calling a heterosexual employee "gay" because he helps out with household chores at home has been deemed sexual orientation discrimination in a tribunal. In addition to this particular example, the employee was being openly bullied by his peers and his employer refused to address the grievances he raised formally because "it was only banter". The employer was ordered to pay the employee over £42,000 in compensation for bullying, constructive dismissal and sexual orientation discrimination.
So without trying to terrify you, it's important that you take grievances seriously and address them properly. Think of it this way, would you rather have a bit of extra work to do for a few weeks and have an uncomfortable conversation, or pay an employee £42,000 in compensation?