Dealing with staff grievances

Woman with hands over her eyes

A distressed receptionist asks to see you privately as she has an urgent issue to discuss. She has scheduled in a meeting later in the day in a private room. During the meeting, you find out that the employee feels like she is being taunted by her colleagues, who leave her out on purpose. She works part-time and no longer feels part of the team. She becomes visibly upset and starts crying, claiming that she dreads coming to work every day. The employee wants to raise a formal grievance and is considering leaving the practice if the situation does not improve.

Familiarise yourself with your practice procedures

The first step when facing a scenario such as this would be to familiarise yourself with your practice's grievance procedure, including the time limits for addressing grievances and your practice's anti-bullying procedures.

Act promptly

Allegations of this nature should be taken seriously and dealt with promptly so you should not delay in starting the formal grievance procedure, as requested by the complainant. Sometimes an informal method of dealing with grievances can bring about a resolution but, in this circumstance, the complainant has opted for a formal procedure. Other immediate considerations include whether to transfer the complainant to another part of the practice while the procedure is under way, but this action should only be taken if the complainant asks for it as otherwise it may be seen as a punishment.

Gather information 

You should get as much detail as possible about the incidents that the complainant has mentioned, including:

  • when the incident(s) happened
  • where the incident(s) took place
  • who was present
  • what was said. 

This exercise will allow you to carry out full investigation. You may ask the complainant to set out her grievance fully in writing.

Formal grievance hearing

A formal grievance hearing should be held to clarify the allegations. It is the responsibility of the employer to arrange this meeting, which should be in line with the grievance procedure. The meeting should be held at a time and place notified to the complainant in advance. 

The complainant has the right to be accompanied by a colleague or a trade union representative at the hearing. This is a statutory entitlement and failure to offer this, or to refuse a selected companion, could raise further issues. It is best to invite the complainant to the meeting in writing, setting out clearly their right to be accompanied. As with all workplace procedures of this sort, a paper trail is important in case questions are raised in the future.

The hearing will allow for the clarification of the issues that need to be addressed, and the employee's desired outcome. In this scenario, this may be:

  • relocation of staff
  • reorganisation of the team
  • disciplinary action against those who are alleged to be behaving in this way towards the complainant.

Investigation

The investigation is a significant part of a grievance procedure and the following should be considered and recorded.

  • Speak to those who the complainant alleges have been taunting her.
  • Speak to anyone who witnessed the alleged events.
  • Take statements from everyone you speak to.

Throughout, it is crucial that the investigator remains impartial and maintains confidentiality in order to protect the rights of everyone involved. The investigation conversations should not be treated as a disciplinary hearing.

Reaching a conclusion

After the investigation stage, you may uphold the grievance and agree to take action. Alternatively, where there are multiple parts to the grievance you may uphold some but not others, or decide that all of the complaints are unfounded. You should write to the complainant informing her of your decision, allowing the right of appeal if the grievance is partly or wholly unsubstantiated.

In this scenario, offering mediation to the individuals involved may help them rebuild their working relationships. This can be offered whether the grievance has been upheld or not. Mediation looks to achieve a resolution through open and honest conversation where the individuals can explain how they are impacted by each other's behaviour.

Learning points

  • Do not delay unreasonably in any part of the procedure.
  • Ensure your investigation is thorough by speaking to all of those who were involved or who witnessed the events, and taking all of their comments into consideration.
  • Remain impartial when considering evidence, do not allow yourself to be influenced by personal prejudice.
  • It is not necessary to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the alleged events occurred – you just need reasonable belief formed after a thorough investigation.
  • Adhere to your contractual procedures and policies.

GROUPCARE members receive access to a free 24-hour employment law advice line. For more information on how to set up a GROUPCARE scheme, visit themdu.com/groupcare

This is a fictional case compiled from actual cases from Peninsula's files.

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This page was correct at publication on . Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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