With most adults spending a significant proportion of their lives at work, the right to work in a safe and comfortable environment is indisputable. It should be guaranteed that employees can attend their place of work and confidently perform the functions of their role free from any type of workplace conflict.
However, despite this largely being understood at a base level, the UK is still considered to have something of a problem with workplace harassment and bullying, many of which inevitably result in workplace grievances. A YouGov poll for the Trades Union Congress (TUC) showed that up to 29 percent of people have been the victims of workplace harassment – that equates to up to 9.1million people, a huge section of the UK workforce.
For many HR personnel, managers and union representatives, the traditional path of the grievance procedure therefore provides a consistent road map by which disputes can be managed. Being able to manage conflict effectively is the key to creating a healthy, productive and comfortable working atmosphere.
What is a workplace grievance?
A workplace grievance commonly manifests itself as a concern, problem or complaint that an employee may have within your workplace. It should be deemed serious enough to be raised with either a line or senior manager – commonly referred to as raising a grievance.
An employee is also entitled to raise about a workplace grievance about areas such as:
- The type of tasks they are asked to do within their role
- Any terms and conditions of their employment contract, such as hours or pay
- The way they feel they are being treated within the workplace
- Feeling discriminated against for any reason. This could include any issues related to race, age, disability or sexuality.
Who can raise a grievance?
Anyone with employee status within a company is legally entitled to raise a grievance about their work, workplace, or a colleague that they work with.
Your worker should be sure that they have full employee status prior to raising a grievance. They are likely to not be an employee if they are:
- An agency worker
- A self-employed contractor
- A home worker
Anyone who may fall within this category will still be entitled to various rights within the workplace, but they are likely to differ slightly to those of an established employee.
How should it be raised?
In the first instance, a grievance is normally raised verbally and informally by an employee – usually they speak privately with a manager and outline their concerns. If the complaint has been ongoing for a while, they may choose to pre- prepare some notes on the situation to ensure that all the points they wish to cover are imparted correctly.
If an informal grievance conversation (detailed below), does not resolve the matter in the first instance, your employee will then move to invoke your formal grievance procedure. The complaint will then be required to be detailed in writing, and in full. It is your responsibility to lay this out clearly in your company handbook, but most businesses will follow, loosely or otherwise, the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievances.
Can it be dealt with informally?
Often, the best way to resolve a grievance issue is to try and work through the matter informally, normally at an early stage of the process. Your employee should normally request a meeting with their immediate manager to discuss the nature of their concerns – however, if the concern involves the manager in question, or they feel that they would rather raise the issue with someone else, they should ensure that they speak to someone at a similar level of superiority.
It is normally helpful, depending on the type of grievance raised and its level of severity, for the employee to suggest ways in which they feel their manager, or the wider business, could work to resolve the problem.
What if an informal resolution doesn’t occur?
If an informal resolution cannot be reached, yourself and the employee in question will then need to invoke your formal grievance procedure.
As discussed previously, this will normally be line with wider, commonly-accepted ACAS guidelines. Their code of practice sets out standards of fairness and reasonable behaviour that employees and employers alike will be expected to follow during this situation. You should ensure that your own grievance procedure is clearly detailed within your company handbook, HR manual, or standard contract of employment.
The first step of the formal grievance procedure would normally require your employee to write a letter to you, detailing exactly what the nature of their complaint is. This letter must be clearly dated, and a copy kept by both parties. It is then your responsibility to respond to the complaint, again in writing, and to set up a formal grievance hearing in order to discuss the issue in detail.
What should my grievance policy contain?
As discussed above, most businesses, especially those on a smaller scale, tend to loosely follow the ACAS code of practice. It is not a legal requirement to follow the Code to the letter, but, if the matter were to reach the stage of an employment tribunal, how closely the Code was followed by both employee and employer is likely to be called into question when deciding on a claim for compensation.