20 Oct 2021

Grievances: What do they ever achieve for anyone?


Law makers seem to think that grievances are going to solve workplace problems hence the ACAS code on grievances. But my question is ‘How?’ The employee raises a complaint: the employer considers it and denies everything for fear of self-incrimination. Somehow out of this process the employee and employer will resolve things? This could not be further from the truth…

What actually happens is that the employee puts in a grievance with all the complaints they can think of, referring to bullying, harassment, discrimination, whistleblowing and unfairness – aided by lawyers. The obvious and often understandable response from the employer is to deny everything, offended by the allegations and worried about a possible claim. The scene is set for battle. That battle almost always leads to a serious deterioration in the working relationship and often to the employee leaving – with some money. Can any employment lawyer deny this…?

What’s the alternative?

Employers should encourage employees to raise issues of concern so that the employer can respond constructively rather than defensively. Easier said than done. Here are our top tips. What are yours?

For employers and employees

• Communicate, consult, collaborate – don’t let things fester;
• Avoid threats – they just increase the temperature;
• Don’t be too defensive – be prepared to admit there may have been a misunderstanding or mistake;
• Stating the facts will usually do the trick – avoid emotive language;
• The language you use is key to achieving what you want;
• Try and consider the position from the other side’s point of view.

For employers

• Encourage employees to ‘air’ any issue of concern before raising a grievance;
• Keep communication going – and make it constructive – which will help clarify misunderstandings. So many employees tell us that they would not be seeking advice if only the employer had had an honest conversation;
• Avoid a hasty response which you may regret; employees often remember these conversations and they can set the (wrong) tone for future discussions;
• Look for solutions; can you say ‘Sorry’? It’s cheap and often goes a long way.

For employees

• Start by raising any issues of concern rather than jumping in with a grievance
• Initially it is not essential to put it in writing though this may become necessary if the issues are not resolved quickly; but keep notes of conversations
• State what happened; you don’t have to give it a label eg bullying/harassment – which is often counter-productive
• Avoid the language of entitlement if you can – legal rights can be added later
• Consider what you want and how it might be achieved.

Camilla Palmer: cpalmer@yesslaw.org.uk

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