Workplace grievances – a waste of time?

Published: 19th August 2011
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For my sins, I have had to chair a number of grievance and grievance appeal meetings recently. It has been a draining and depressing experience.

It is quite right that employees should be able to raise a genuine concern about work and breaches of statutory or contractual rights in a reasonable and objective fashion. The purpose of a grievance is to allow the employer to properly explore an employee's concerns and take such steps as are appropriate to address and remedy matters. Unfortunately the disastrous Statutory Dispute Resolution Regulations, which required the raising of a grievance before an employee could submit a tribunal claim, set the tone. Although the Regulations were repealed in 2009, we are stills seeing high levels of grievances. Whereas before the Regulations, there was plenty of workplace disputes, but they were dealt with informally in most cases. Now, I would assert based on my own experience (and most HR professionals I meet seem to agree) that the vast majority of grievances are ‘protest' grievances. Employers are under a duty to meticulously scrutinise these complaints. Not only is it boring dealing with non-existent complaints, they are an enormous drain on time, resources and of money. In the last week I heard one complaint that an employee hadn't been paid overtime. He hadn't; but the reason for that was that he had been authorised to pay himself (he was a director) and hadn't done so. Quite extraordinary.

What can you do to manage such time wasting? We certainly want to leave the channels open for people who do have a genuine grievance, but filter out such silliness as I have described above. One of the problem areas is if a person raises a grievance in response to a request to attend a discipline. You can reserve the right to deal with the grievance concurrently within the discipline process, which means that you're not stuck for months while a grievance is played out.

The screams of bullying and harassment that often ensue when managers seek to properly provide advice and correction where employees do not meet standards, has caused us to include clear guidance in our procedures that such correction will not be considered to be a grievance unless the employee can provide evidence that the effort was not made in an appropriate fashion.

There is no right to keep raising the same grievance and where the grounds seem weak, it can be helpful to include a requirement that the employee submits the basis for his concerns and some supporting evidence for further investigation before convening a grievance meeting.

In one extreme case, an employee raised so many and such malicious grievances, her colleagues refused to work with her. I ended by dismissing her for some other substantial reason. In that case the biter was bit, but not without months of time wasting and pain; it's best to reduce the risk as far as possible.

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