Sometimes, employees may be unhappy with an aspect of their work life – for example, the way they’re expected to work, specific terms within their contract, other staff members.
These types of complaints are referred to as ‘grievances’ and employees have a right to raise these for consideration by their employer.
Make sure you distinguish an employee grievance from whistle-blowing by an employee, since there may be additional or alternative obligations imposed on you, as an employer, in relation to how you handle these types of complaints.
What's the difference between whistle-blowing and an employee grievance?
Watch our short sound-bite below to find out.
Your starting resource for handling employee grievances
Underpinning each step you take in response to an employee grievance should be your grievance policy.
This sets out your grievance approach and procedure in full and it's important for you and the employee that you follow this to the letter.
Make sure that you keep this policy accessible to your staff at all times.
So if an employee complains, what should you do?
Step 1: Early stage, informal discussions
Your employees should follow the process that you've set out in your grievance policy.
You'll see from Farillio's template that this encourages employees to consider raising their concern in an informal discussion with a named individual (or an alternative named individual) as soon as the concern arises.
This is designed to give you the chance to resolve any concerns that can be quickly and responsibly handled, to avoid prolonged anxiety, discomfort or injury to the employee.
It may also prevent some complaints from escalating into something disproportionately big and time-consuming, where this can be sensitively and sensibly prevented.
Discussions are not a success?
If the employee does not wish to take this approach, or the verbal discussion does not resolve their concerns, the policy directs them to set out their complaint(s) in writing.
Step 2 below examines this further...
Step 2: you receive the employee's formal complaint
Your policy documentation should direct the format of this complaint letter.
The employee should understand what details they need to include in their grievance letter.
Under Farillio's template policy, you'll see that these steps include:
What has happened
The names of any individuals involved
The history and any relevant dates (at least approximate ones) relating to all of the facts described
Any materials (correspondence, screenshots of communications, etc.) that help to support what the employee describes
What steps they may have already taken to resolve their concern(s)
(including whether they've already spoken with the named contact person in the policy and the outcome of those steps).
What action they want you to take in response, and
What outcome they would like
A statement that they intend for this matter to be handled under your formal grievance procedure.
Acknowledging the employee's grievance
Within a time-frame specified in your policy, (Farillio's template specifies 3 days), you should write to let the employee know you've received their grievance.
Your reply should also tell them how you intend to deal with it - which will very much depend on what their grievance is actually about.
Properly considering what you've been told
Make sure you carefully look at all the relevant facts and materials available to you.
It's perfectly fine to ask the employee for more information, or to provide a formal statement about the complaint, to help you gather what you need ahead of scheduling a formal grievance meeting (sometimes called a grievance 'hearing').
Notifying the subject of the complaint
You may even need to notify another employee that a grievance has been raised against them and to formally interview them in as part of your fact-finding exercise.
You can use Farillio's template letter informing employee of a grievance raised against them for this.
Be clear on your fact-finding time-frames
If you do need time to gather information, make sure you tell the employee the time-frame that you're aiming to work to - this will help manage their anxiety and expectations and give them confidence that you are running a fair and thorough process.
Generally speaking, this fact-finding should not exceed 7 days and depending on the nature of the concern, may need to be a much faster process to avoid evidence deteriorating or damage escalating.
You will need to apply common sense and reasonableness here.
Involving others to help with the fact-finding
If you want to enlist someone else's help with fact-finding, make sure they are as impartial and disconnected from the matters complained about as possible.
If you decide this is needed, let the employee know that you are planning to investigate further, who will be doing the investigating and that the person investigating may also want to talk to them as part of this investigation exercise.
All fact-finding should be carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible and on a strictly confidential basis.
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