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Welcome to Part 8 of “What to include in an Employee Handbook”. In today’s addition to the series, we will look at the formal measures for dealing with complaints, disputes and grievances.

Formal measures

It is important to consider in the Employee Handbook when formal measures are appropriate. Formal measures will generally be appropriate in circumstances where:

  • a dispute, complaint or grievance could not be resolved by informal measures;
  • you advise the Disputes & Grievances Officer that it would be inappropriate to resolve your dispute, complaint or grievance informally and would like the matter dealt with formally;
  • the dispute, complaint or grievance involves a senior employee;
  • the Disputes & Grievances Officer must investigate the dispute, complaint or grievance in order to substantiate it; or
  • another Business policy applies and requires the matter to be investigated or dealt with formally.

Investigation

If a dispute, complaint or grievance is to be dealt with formally the dispute, complaint or grievance must first be investigated by the Disputes & Grievances Officer who will:

  • investigate the dispute, complaint or grievance in accordance with the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness;
  • interview the person in relation to whom the dispute, complaint or grievance has been reported;
  • allow the person to have a support person present at the interview;
  • notify the person of the particulars of the dispute, complaint or grievance and that an investigation will be undertaken;
  • give the person the opportunity to respond to the dispute, complaint or grievance;
  • outline the process, estimate the time to complete the process and resolve the dispute, complaint or grievance and explain the possible outcomes of the process;
  • interview any witnesses;
  • document all interviews and include as much detail as possible (including dates, times, locations and exact words wherever possible); and
  • give any person interviewed the opportunity to review, amend and endorse any documentation of their interview.

Result of investigation

After completing the investigation, the Disputes & Grievances Officer may determine that the dispute, complaint or grievance is either substantiated or unsubstantiated.

If the dispute, complaint or grievance is substantiated, the Disputes & Grievances Officer will:

  • prepare a report which documents the investigation process, evidence considered from the interview process, findings and proposed steps to be taken;
  • inform both parties of the findings/decision and the reasons for the findings/decision;
  • implement the steps to resolve the dispute, complaint or grievance and prevent the behaviour or incident from recurring; and
  • review the matter at a nominated date in the future.

Steps that may be taken include:

  • private/public written/verbal apology;
  • verbal/written warning;
  • re-crediting any leave taken at any time by a person as a result of the behaviour or incident that is the subject of the dispute, complaint or grievance;
  • payment or reimbursement of medical and other fees by a person as a result of the behaviour or incident that is the subject of the dispute, complaint or grievance;
  • disciplinary action against the person or persons who engaged in the behaviour or caused the incident that gave rise to the dispute, complaint or grievance;
  • transfer;
  • suspension;
  • probation;
  • dismissal;
  • appropriate notation on, or removal of comments from, a person’s personnel file; and/or
  • conciliation/mediation with an impartial third party to resolve the dispute, complaint or grievance.

What if the Complaint is unsubstantiated?

If the dispute, complaint or grievance is not substantiated the Disputes & Grievances Officer should explain the reasons for this conclusion to the person who reported the dispute, complaint or grievance. A dispute, complaint or grievance may not be substantiated if there is insufficient evidence to support the dispute, complaint or grievance.

If there is evidence that the dispute, complaint or grievance was vexatious or malicious:

  • the Disputes & Grievances Officer may determine that the person who reported the dispute, complaint or grievance should be subject to disciplinary action; and/or
  • the person who reported the dispute, complaint or grievance may risk an action being commenced against them in defamation (i.e. where the person who reported the dispute, complaint or grievance publishes or makes a statement about another person that lowers their reputation or leads other people to avoid or shun that person).

Conclusion

Make sure that employees are made aware of the formal procedures for making a complaint. It is also very important that employees understand the risks of making a false complaint, and the disciplinary action that could be carried out against them if the claim is found to be unsubstantiated. For assistance in drafting the terms of your Employee Handbook, contact LegalVision on 1300 544 755.

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