Work place grievances occur routinely, employees become easily frustrated by the way that they are treated by their employers and the way in which these disputes are dealt with and managed. This can lead to harboured resentment, demotivation, and in the poorest of outcomes, employment tribunal claims. For these reasons, it is important to ensure that when faced with a grievance, a real attempt is made to understand precisely the nature of the complaint and resolve it fairly, swiftly and consistently and, hopefully, to the satisfaction of the employee.

Culturally, across all sectors and industries and in both public and private sectors, grievances are being regarded as immediately threatening. However to adopt such an approach is short-sighted. The raising of a concern (as a grievance) can present as an opportunity to engage not only the employee but the larger work force, improving the way in which an employer is perceived by the public at large.

The presence of a documented policy alone is not enough- there is a need in its application, for the policy to be flexible, adaptable and transparent and to be capable of effecting change. Critically the employee must be able to engage with the process meaningfully.

Enforcement of the spirit of the policy is key and obfuscating questions which employers raise serve only as distractions.

The grievance process adopted has to be manageable within the resources of the business, however, the majority of employees do not wish to make their grievances their daily work. Whilst wanting to bring about change, they want to return to the security of their employment after the process has ended. The cumbersome and lengthy processes adopted by some employers are unhelpful.

An employer cannot be naïve. To adopt a defensive approach towards a grievance is foolhardy. Whilst not all employees can be satisfied, if greater engagement is offered during the grievance process then this may offer the final opportunity to salvage a failing relationship with an employee.

This article was written by No5 Employment Barrister Nigel Brockley.

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