The importance of dealing with grievances properly

by Redmans Solicitors on February 10, 2013

  • SumoMe

If a business employs more than a handful of persons then it’s more than likely that there will be a certain amount of disputes in the workplace. If these disputes escalate they can often result in what are known as “grievances” – an informal or formal complaint by the employee regarding some element of their working environment or practice. Grievances can be a serious business – if they’re not dealt with properly they can lead to potential discrimination lawsuits, constructive dismissal claims and/or whistleblowing proceedings in the Employment Tribunal. It’s important that they’re therefore dealt with properly. In this post we’ll take a look at how this can be done and examine grievances and their consequences more generally. We’ll do so by looking at the following:

  1. What is a grievance?
  2. How should a grievance by an employee be dealt with?
  3. What are the potential consequences if a grievance isn’t dealt with properly?

What is a grievance?

A grievance is a statement by a worker that they’re unsatisfied with some respect of their work – this could be their fellow employees, the work itself or the working environment (among other things). A grievance can be either informal or formal, verbal or written. If the matter is not particularly serious then the employee may make an informal complaint to their line manager or some other responsible person and this can normally be dealt with in a relatively expedient fashion. If the matter is more serious then the employee will normally make a formal (frequently written) grievance to their line manager (or the appropriate person) which will detail what they believe are potentially serious allegations against the employer itself or certain employees.

How should a grievance by an employee be dealt with?

A formal (especially a written) grievance should be dealt with seriously by the employer. It should be acknowledged as soon as possible (within 48 hours, in best practice) and the matter should be examined as soon as possible by an appropriately qualified person. This will normally entail a Human Resources representative (if there is one) or an employment law solicitor categorising the matter and determining whether an investigation is necessary. If an investigation is necessary then it will be necessary to appoint an appropriately impartial and qualified person to undertake this – if the administrative resources of the business will allow this. The employee should be kept informed at all times regarding the progress of the case and should be invited to a grievance hearing so they can present their case. An outcome should then be arrived at and the results of the grievance outcome communicated to the employee. The employee should also be allowed the chance to appeal their grievance if the grievance is unsuccessful.

What are the potential consequences if a grievance isn’t dealt with properly?

If a grievance isn’t dealt with properly then this may result in a number of things, depending upon the nature of the grievance. If the grievance relates to a “protected disclosure” and the employee feels that it’s not dealt with properly (and that they’ve been subjected to a detriment in some fashion) then this may result in a “whistleblowing claim” in the Employment Tribunal by the employee. If the employer fails to deal with the grievance at all then they may breach the implied term of mutual trust and confidence in the employee’s contract of employment, entitling the employee to resign and submit a constructive dismissal claim to the Employment Tribunall. If the grievance related to a discrimination claim and the employer unreasonably fails to take any action against the discriminatory behaviour then the employee may wish to submit a discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal. All of these potential outcomes can be costly to employers so it’s best to take a proactive approach and stop the potential for any claim being made by dealing with the grievance properly.

Redmans Solicitors offer employment law advice to employees and employers. They are based in Richmond and the City of London.

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