It is safe to say that the pandemic has caused tensions to run very high at times, especially when employees and managers have to adapt to sudden changes like working from home.
While some flourished in this environment, many others struggled and hit a wall of frustration, stress and isolation.
As a result, more work issues have been reported. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 48% of employees reported a work issue to their HR representative. A huge 44% of employees also received disciplinary action as a result of perceived behaviour or performance issues while working from home.
The most common complaints employers are seeing lately regard employee disputes, employee benefits, safety at work, denial of time off and issues with equipment when working from home.
The good news is that many of these issues can be resolved quickly and easily, if the right steps are taken. It can be as simple as an informal chat with a manager.
However, it is vital that the correct procedure is followed when any dispute or complaint is raised. If it isn’t, you’re putting your business at risk. If not handled correctly, complaints could eventually end up as tribunals, costing you lots of time and money, not to mention the stress it can bring to everyone involved. If you don’t feel confident in handling situations internally, use an outsourced HR service like EffectiveHRM to advise or handle the situation on your behalf.
To make sure you’re protecting both your employees and your business, make sure everyone knows your policy on complaints and disputes and follow them to the letter should an issue arise.
Simple Steps for Complaints
1.Your workers should be encouraged to raise any concerns they have with either their line manager or your company’s HR manager. This doesn’t have to be in writing in the first instance; a quick chat will suffice to raise an issue informally.
2. Once an issue has been raised, it’s important that you take it seriously. This can protect you from a tribunal, but it also helps to maintain good, trusting working relationships, which is vital for any successful business.
3. Set up a chat with the employee who has raised an issue. Remember, they are entitled to bring someone along to any meeting you set up regarding the issue. If they’re unaware of this, explain it to them clearly. This person is there to act as a witness for your employee; it could be a colleague, a trade union representative, or someone else relevant to their role. If they request that a friend or family member attends, you are within your rights to refuse. They can also bring along someone for support, if necessary, like an interpreter or care provider.
4. At this meeting, ask them to clearly explain their issue to you, and have them suggest how they’d like the problem to be resolved. For example, if they are having a problem with a colleague, they may like to sit and have a conversation with a manager present to act as a mediator. Or, if they’re struggling with the technology they’ve been given to allow them to work from home, they may suggest a new laptop to help them complete their role more effectively.
5. This meeting should be a two-way process: while it’s important that you listen closely to their issue and proposed solution, they should also be prepared to listen to any input you have on the situation, too. You may be able to suggest alternative solutions; then it’s up to you both to work together to decide on an agreed plan of action.
6. You must keep a record of your meeting, even if it’s informal. Include details of the problem, the action you took when the problem was raised (a meeting, for example), what was discussed, the next steps agreed with clear timeline, and the reasons for the agreed steps.
7. Agree on a follow-up meeting for when the agreed action has been taken. At this meeting, you can check that any steps have been actioned as agreed and look to see if they have resolved the issue.
Hopefully, at this point, you will be in a position to close the case, so to speak. However, in some cases, the agreed actions don’t resolve the problem and it is necessary to take further action.
Steps if a complaint becomes a formal grievance
If an informal complaint fails to reach a satisfactory conclusion with the steps above, you may want to discuss other actions which could help to resolve the issue, or you may plan more discussions to work through the problem. It’s important, at this point, that you remind your employee that they are able to raise a grievance, if they feel the informal approach isn’t working.
It’s worth noting that, if the issue at hand is of a more serious nature (sexual assault for example), it may be appropriate to skip the informal steps and move straight to a grievance procedure.
1.If a grievance is to be raised, it’s important that it’s done as soon as possible and in writing. Your company policy should contain all of the information your employees need to help them raise a grievance, including who it should be raised with. If it doesn’t currently, contact EffectiveHRM for advice or template wording.
2. Once a grievance has been raised, you, as the employer, should carry out a formal investigation to obtain any relevant information. The person carrying out the investigation should have had no personal involvement in the matter at hand. It’s also crucial that every step of the grievance is handled with confidentiality; this includes informing any witnesses that they are not to discuss the matter with any colleagues. And again, you should keep a full record of anything discussed or discovered during your investigation.
3. After a full investigation, you will need to hold a hearing. Ideally, this should be within 5 days. This should give your employee the opportunity to explain their side in detail and, again, set out the outcome they would like to see. Just like in an informal meeting, your employees are also entitled to be accompanied to a grievance hearing by a colleague, union representative, or someone else relevant, as well as an interpreter or care provider, where necessary.
4. After your hearing, you may be required to carry out further investigation, or you may be able to come to a conclusion. Any decision you do make following a hearing must be communicated to your employee, in writing, as soon as possible. They should also be informed of their right to appeal your decision.
If your employee isn’t satisfied with the outcome of their grievance, they have the right to appeal. If they do, you must hear their appeal without unreasonable delay.
This works in a similar way to the initial grievance. You should arrange a meeting, and your employee has the right to be accompanied again.
However, this meeting should be held by someone who wasn’t involved in the initial grievance. Ideally, this meeting should be held by someone in a more senior position; however, in small businesses, this isn’t always possible. In these cases, it’s sometimes appropriate for someone to be brought in from outside the business to conduct the meeting. We are happy to provide this service, and it can be reassuring to both parties to have legally-trained HR professionals present in this way.
Your employee should be given the opportunity to explain why they disagree with your decision and what they think the outcome should be. It will then be up to the person hearing the appeal to decide whether it was handled correctly in the first instance, and where necessary, to decide on a new outcome.
If it’s not possible to resolve an issue or dispute, it may be that you consider involving a third party to help. This could be in the form of a mediator, for example.
There’s a lot to consider
That may seem like a lot to think about when an employee raises a complaint in your business but, I assure you, this is a very brief overview. There can be a lot more to consider when a grievance is raised, depending on the nature of the complaint. It can be extremely stressful for employers as well as employees to be involved in these kind of procedures, and having good legal advice from the outset can help provide reassurance.
What is vital is that you follow protocol to the letter to avoid any unnecessary escalation. Take any complaint seriously and ensure you don’t miss any steps, even if you think they are unimportant.
As mentioned earlier, fortunately, the majority of issues raised can be dealt with quickly and with little stress, providing you and your managers really listen to your employees. It is also possible to avoid issues occurring in the first place, by tackling any problems you see immediately and looking out for signs of conflict or dissatisfaction.
One of the most important takeaways is that you shouldn’t try to handle the grievance process on your own, if you don’t have a qualified HR expert on your staff. If handled incorrectly, you could end up making any problem a lot worse, which could eventually land your business in a tribunal unnecessarily.
If you’re dealing with more employee issues or complaints lately, we’d love to help you resolve them before they reach a grievance. We are highly trained and experienced in this area and have helped many of our clients avoid escalation and expense. Contact us for a confidential discussion at email@example.com or call us at 03300 414589.
DISCLAIMER: The article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances may impact the accuracy and validity of the information. EffectiveHRM is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for any action or decision taken as a result of using the guidance.