Guidelines on Managing Workplace Grievances

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 19 July 2017
Caroline McEnery
The HR Suite Online

What is a Grievance? 

A grievance is a complaint which an employee or a group of employees has concerning terms and conditions of employment, working environment or working relationships.

Employee grievances can arise for a variety of reasons including the following:

  • Interpretation of conditions of employment
  • Pay and benefits
  • Changing work practices
  • Alleged discrimination, bullying or harassment
  • Health & safety issues
  • Promotion and grading
  • Issues with fellow employees

Why do we need a Grievance Policy & Procedure?

The aim of a grievance procedure is to encourage consistency, transparency and fairness in the handling of workplace problems or complaints.  

It also achieves the following:

  • Provides individuals with a course of action if they have a complaint
  • Provides a point of contact and timescales to resolve issues of concern
  • Resolves employee problems quickly and informally
  • Shows an employer acting fairly
  • Shows consistency in decision-making
  • Prevents a build up of issues
  • Promotes good working relationships
  • Promotes resolution of matters without needing third party mechanisms to facilitate investigation and resolution

Procedure

A grievance policy and procedure will provide a mechanism to solve problems and no employee shall suffer any form of victimisation as a result of raising a grievance under this procedure.

The Code of Practice on Grievance Procedure as provided for by S.I. no 146 of 2000 sets out the best practice guidelines for grievance procedures. The first step for anyone dealing with a grievance issue is to refer to the company policy. The procedure should be applied fairly and consistently to all staff. These policies should be communicated to employees and signed by both parties to ensure that employees understand the content.

It is advised that as a company you should provide appropriate training to any staff members who have staff management functions. This training should be kept under review in light of developments and best practice in this area. Management should be trained in the basics of addressing grievances in the first instance.

General principles when dealing with workplace Grievances

  • All parties must be committed to resolution
  • All avenues should be fully exhausted
  • Ideally, all grievances will be settled in an informal way and as quickly as possible
  • No form of industrial action or pressure should take place during the process
  • Normal work must continue – even if this means the parties work under protest
  • Follow your company policy and procedure and do not deviate from it
  • Ensure there are no undue delays

Early intervention

Grievances are best dealt with at an early stage, informally, with the immediate line manager.

However, organisations should have formal procedures in place to handle cases left unresolved. Having formal grievance procedures in place allows employers to give reasonable consideration to any issues which can't be resolved informally and to deal with them fairly and consistently. Pursuing the formal route should be a last resort rather than the first option.

Informal procedure

Most routine complaints are capable of being resolved on an informal basis without recourse to the formal grievance procedure.  Best practice informal grievance procedure should include an option for the complainant to approach the alleged perpetrator and inform him/her that he finds his/her behaviour to be unacceptable. Alternatively, the complainant should have the option to approach the supervisor/manager and ask for their assistance with the matter.

If the matter has not been resolved satisfactorily through informal discussions, the employee may raise a formal complaint under the grievance procedure.

Mediation

Workplace mediation is an alternative method of resolving complaints. This is a separate, alternative method of resolution where both parties agree to the process of mediation. Workplace mediation is an informal process through which a trained mediator helps the parties in a dispute to talk about the issues between them, and if they wish, to reach an agreement which is acceptable to both sides.

The process is voluntary and both parties must be willing to take part and agree to the appointment of a mediator (internal or external).

If the parties agree to this approach, the Company must appoint a neutral and impartial mediator, with the agreement of the parties, to facilitate the process.

The Formal Procedure

The formal procedure for the settlement of grievances will not normally be invoked unless the matter has been first referred for settlement under the informal procedure or if the parties elect for the formal procedure. However, if the formal procedure is invoked, the key to ensuring a fair process is achieved are outlined as follows:

Representation

The employee should have the right to be accompanied by a work colleague or a chosen representative at any meeting under the procedure.

Under the Code of Practice, “employee representative” includes the following:

  • a colleague of the employee's choice
  • a registered trade union member
  • but not any other person or body unconnected with the enterprise

A witness may address the meeting but not speak on the employee’s behalf. The right to representation should be stated in all correspondence and recorded in minutes

Time Limits

While every effort will be made to adhere to the prescribed time limits these may be extended at any stage in exceptional circumstances. Every effort should be made to address complaints quickly and fairly.

Separation of Process

In order to ensure a fair and impartial hearing, there must be separation of the stages within the grievance process: ie the investigation, the outcome and the appeal. There should be a nominated person to manage each stage of the process and no overlap.

Natural Justice

Both the complainant and the subject of the complaint are entitled to the following rights. Should either or both not receive these rights, the process is deemed as unfair.

  • The right to know the allegations against you.
  • The right to a fair and impartial hearing.
  • The right to representation.
  • The right to state your case.
  • The right to appeal.

Paper Trail

The operation of a good grievance procedure requires the maintenance of adequate records.  It is important to have a paper trail documenting each step of any investigation.

Victimisation

An employee should not be penalised in any way for making a complaint in good faith regardless of whether or not the complaint is upheld.

This article is correct at 19/07/2017
Disclaimer:

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Caroline McEnery
The HR Suite Online

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