Not everyone can be happy all the time at work but as we see regularly in the news headlines, bad behaviour in the workplace is not unknown. People’s mental and even physical health can be affected if they experience or witness such behaviour and it is the employer’s responsibility to take action if a situation arises. There can be serious ramifications, including employment tribunals, if complaints aren’t resolved.
Process and procedures
Companies that foster an open and accessible culture can often avoid formal grievance procedures if employees know they can talk over a problem before it becomes too big. In-house HR, a freelance HR consultant or an approachable line manager should be the employee’s first point of contact and all efforts should be made to resolve an issue at this point.
In addition, it is a legal requirement that all companies should have a written grievance procedure so employees know the steps that will be taken and the likely outcomes. ACAS has a grievance process template here that is free to use.
Formal grievance procedure
If after an initial complaint, the employee feels the situation hasn’t been resolved or if the issue is very serious such as sexual harassment, they may want to make a formal complaint. That complaint should be in writing to their manager and after that, a meeting should be arranged to discuss the matter, at which the employee has the right to be accompanied.
The meeting will be followed up soon after with a response detailing a decision or to let them know that more investigation is required.
Dealing with the person the grievance is against
As well as the employee making the complaint, the employer also has a duty of care for the person against whom the complaint is being made, especially before the outcome of any investigation is known.
Particularly for very serious allegations, suspending that employee might be a suitable course of action if it will help the investigation and prevent further harm.
For lesser complaints, a suspension might still be desirable but it may be possible for both parties to remain in the workplace while the process is going through.
Sometimes, the outcome of a grievance complaint is clear, especially if the complaint is upheld. But it will also be important to take into account the wishes of the employee with the grievance as they may welcome mediation or training to resolve the issue.
If the employee isn’t happy with the outcome, they can make an appeal. The process will include that for appeals but is essentially a similar series of actions but may include a more senior staff member overseeing the complaint and making the investigation.
Conflict in the workplace is never pleasant but it can have serious implications for all parties involved – including the employer – if complaints aren’t dealt with in a timely, fair and open way. ACAS (www.acas.org.uk) has information about handling complaints and individual employees may get support from their union. HR specialists can also offer help and advice if required.