Top 10 Tips for Managing Grievances in the Workplace

For some staff, remote working and being isolated from colleagues long-term has taken its toll on work based relationships. This has resulted in more formal grievances and cases going through to the Employment Tribunal.

Over the last 18 months, we have been increasingly advising our business clients in respect of staff grievances, some with a COVID-19 theme. These grievances have included staff raising concerns about lack of communication from management whilst working from home, as well as concerns about health and safety risks arising from a potential return to the office.

In more recent months, the Employment Tribunals have started to grapple with similar issues. We have seen Tribunal claims from employees, especially those with less than 2 years’ service, seeking to argue that their dismissals during the pandemic were automatically unfair for health and safety reasons, as well as whistleblowing. For example, some concerns raised by employees at the Tribunal include allegations that employers failed to comply with the government’s guidelines in relation to COVID-19 and failed to protect vulnerable workers. The claims were not always successful.

In the vast majority of cases, an employee will raise an informal or formal grievance before workplace concerns ultimately reach the Employment Tribunal. The ACAS code defines grievances as “… concerns, problems or complaints that employees raised with their employers”. Grievances, if handled sensitively and fairly, can often prevent workplace issues from spiralling out of control. This can reduce the risk of claims which can be extremely costly to your business, take up significant management time and potentially cause reputational harm.

This blog sets out our top 10 tips for managing grievances in the workplace:

  1. The first port of call in any grievance scenario is to consider the relevant grievance policy and procedure. All employers should have a grievance procedure and policy in place. Employers should be familiar with their policy, as well as the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary procedures.
  2. Most workplace issues and problems can be settled fairly quickly through informal discussions. Take early action and do not let matters fester. Consider the employee’s wishes and whether the issue can be “nipped in the bud”.
  3. If the employee wishes to raise a formal grievance ask for this to be set out in writing and what outcome they seek.
  4. Consider the terms of the grievance and ask for clarity where required. Does the content raise issues more appropriately dealt with under other policies, such as whistleblowing or bullying and harassment?
  5. Consider whether the employee has a disability and whether any reasonable adjustments should be made to the process.
  6. Carry out a thorough investigation to collect all relevant information on the issues raised in the grievance. Useful ACAS guidance on conducting an investigation can be found here.
  7. Consider who should chair the formal grievance meeting and plan ahead to determine whether you have sufficient personnel to deal with any subsequent appeal. Are those involved in the process sufficiently impartial?
  8. Do not ignore a grievance and do not make assumptions that employees with less than 2 years’ service do not have grounds to bring employment tribunal claims. Employees with less than 2 years’ service can raise certain claims, including automatically unfair dismissal relating to whistleblowing and carrying out health and safety activities. You should never short-circuit a grievance procedure without taking appropriate advice.
  9. Keep clear written records throughout the entire process.
  10. If in doubt at any stage of the procedure, seek expert legal advice to ensure your organisation’s position is protected.

For more information on the issues raised above, please contact:

Caroline Carr, Partner & Accredited Specialist in Employment Law: cac@bto.co.uk / 0141 221 8012
Katie Hendry, Solicitor: khe@bto.co.uk / 0141 221 8012

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